Planned placement of a statewide wind energy transmission line through the site plan for Cisco’s Gregory Simmons Memorial Airfield has airport advocates saying the plans threaten what could be one of the community’s largest economic development efforts.
“We cannot build an airport with a transmission line going straight through the middle of the runway,” said Holly Carless, director of public affairs for the Gregory Simmons Memorial Airfield and Wilks Brothers LLC.
The airfield, a privately-funded but public-use airport, would serve multiple purposes, according to supporttheroute.com, a website for those supporting rerouting the lines, including serving as a base of operations for emergency responders in the region.
According to the site, local officials – with support from community leaders and landowners – are working negotiate a re-route of lines that Lone Star Transmission plans to place in the area.
Because of various factors, such as need for flat terrain, airspace restrictions and other limitations, there are few choices of where to place the airport, said Ruth York, one of the project’s more vocal supporters.
“But transmission lines can be rerouted,” she said. “So what we are asking is for the PUC to approve a reroute around the airport. Then we can have both.”
Calls to Lone Star Transmission for comment were not returned Monday afternoon.
The transmission line issue “was decided in 2010,” said Terry Hadley, spokesman with the Public Utilities Commission of Texas.
After being approved by the FAA in 2007, the airport project was placed on hold during the economic downturn, “but was under way again in late 2009,” according to wwww.supportthereroute.com.
Recently, “various lawsuits” have been filed. Carless said, in relation to the issue.
“Lone Star is suing Eastland County for zoning it as an airport,” she said, referring to a suit filed in February. “(And) they filed various things against us in the Texas Supreme Court.”
Currently, “we have a temporary injunction against Lone Star to keep them off of the property,and we’re now asking that that become a permanent injunction,” Carless said.
A hearing to that effect is set for “sometime in October,” she said.
The placement of the transmission lines poses several difficulties, according to the supportthereroute.com, since FAA regulations impose height restrictions and establish no-fly areas in the air space surrounding airports.
The lines would cause “a significant hazard for flight paths into and out of the airport,” a concern the FAA has notified Lone Star Transmission about, the site says.
According to the site, Lone Star is “considering an alternate route” to accommodate development of the airport.
In a question-and-answer section of www.supportthereroute.com, “above-market compensation will come from Wilks Brothers, LLC,” for landowners affected should such come to pass, “in addition to Lone Star’s offer.”
With a runway 9,700 feet long, enough to handle a C-130 or a jumbo jet, the airport project is expected to create 100 jobs during its construction phase, York said.
“And then on an ongoing basis, it’s going to employ people, bring business to the area, and so forth,” York said.
York and others are organizing letter-writing campaigns and sending proponents to the site to pledge their loyalty to the project.
Carless said supporters are working closely with elected officials to show “this is not just a project that the Wilks brothers are behind … this is a project the community is behind,” referring to Cisco-area billionaires Dan and Farris Wilks and Farris Wilks, who founded Frach Tech, a well completion service today known at FTS International.
“This is not a self-fulfilling project for the Wilks brothers,” Carless said of the airport. “If they just wanted to land their planes close to their home, they could just put a runway in their back yard. But that’s not what this is about. It’s about bringing growth and jobs to the area.”
Carless provided a copy of a letter from Cisco Independent School District Superintendent Kelly West, calling the airport a “huge financial benefit” for both students and the district.
Expected increases in tax revenues and student enrollment were two potential boons brought by the project, West wrote, wile rerouting the transmission lines makes “both projects possible.”
“It recognizes the earlier permits granted to the airport,” West wrote. “It recognizes the needs of the community, such as improved emergency responses and transportation options. It recognizes the transformational contribution the airport would make to the economy of Cisco Independent School District, Eastland County and the state of Texas for generations to come.”
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