A judge in Travis County rejected a lawsuit Tuesday by Kerrville and its electric utility aimed at overturning the Public Utility Commission decision to build a new transmission line beside Interstate 10 from Comfort to west of Junction.
The plaintiffs, who were backed by Kerr County, say putting power towers along the north side of I-10 would devalue prime commercial property, deface the city’s “gateway” at Texas 16, and infringe on nearby residences and businesses.
The suit, filed in March, accused PUC members of abusing their discretion, of considering improper evidence and of ignoring their own agency regulations in picking the route in January.
Those claims were denied in court pleadings filed by the attorney general’s office, which represented the PUC in the case.
After listening to two hours of arguments in Austin, state District Judge Lora Livingston upheld the PUC’s decision.
“It didn’t go our way,” said Kerr County Commissioner Bruce Oehler, who was more surprised at the speed with which the ruling was rendered than its content.
“It was so quick,” Oehler said, “We figured it would be at least two weeks.”
Backers of the selected route outnumbered critics in the courtroom, he said.
“There were a lot of counties that sent legal counsel with letters of support for the PUC,” Oehler said as he drove home.
The city of Junction was a plaintiff in the case until reaching a settlement Monday with the Lower Colorado River Authority’s Transmission Services Corp., which has a state contract to build the line by December 2013.
Junction Mayor Larry Maddux called the settlement, whose terms weren’t released Tuesday, “the best way out” since the selected route seemed “pretty well set in concrete.”
After spending nearly two years on the process of selecting a route, the LCRA TSC – which intervened in the suit on the side of the PUC – is eager to get to work on the project, which is part of the state’s Competitive Renewable Energy Zone initiative.
“We thought the PUC decision was well-supported in the facts,” said LCRA spokeswoman Clara Tuma, “and we’re gratified that the judge agreed with us today in affirming the decision.”
The project to connect substations in Kendall and Schleicher counties is among more than 2,400 miles of new power lines that the state wants built to improve the reliability of its electric grid and to carry power from rural wind farms to high-demand urban areas.
Kerr County Attorney Rob Henneke told Livingston the PUC disregarded its own “prudent avoidance” policy, which calls for power lines to be kept away from populated areas, by running it near a mobile home park in Kerrville.
“No scintilla of evidence exists to support a reasonable basis to condemn peoples’ homes when 60 other routes or 20,000 other configurations would accomplish the state’s purpose without this harm,” he said, according to a copy of his remarks provided afterward.
PUC spokesman Terry Hadley welcomed the court ruling.
“They have been fair in allowing all parties to participate and help the PUC decide these challenging CREZ cases,” he said.
Tuesday began with last-minute talks between the LCRA TSC and both the Kerr County Commission and the Kerrville City Council, but neither board agreed to a settlement at separate emergency meetings.