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Council passes annexation resolution

CORPUS CHRISTI – City leaders moved forward Tuesday with plans to annex 16 square miles of land in a maneuver intended to block or regulate a wind farm proposed in the area.

In the past, several council members have been vocal with their concerns about the wind farm proposed by Virginia-based developer Apex Clean Energy – the most prominent being that officials say a wind farm at the proposed site would kill residential and commercial growth for the city.

But on Tuesday, the resolution passed 6-0, with no discussion from the council. City Councilman Chad Magill has abstained from the matter, writing in an email sent several months ago to the city secretary that he was concerned because his employer, Stewart Title, is a specialist in wind title policies and may at some point be involved in a project within the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction. City Councilwoman Priscilla Leal has been on leave recovering from a stroke, and City Councilwoman Colleen McIntyre was absent.

An ordinance that would finalize the annexation could go before the council for a vote as early as September.

Grady Jolley, an attorney who represents about 14 landowners who have maintained wind energy leases and would be affected by the proposed annexation, was optimistic Tuesday the city and the property owners could reach some kind of accord.

“We understand the city’s concerns regarding the wind farm,” he told the council in public comments. “We’re ready to enter into substantive negotiations with the city to try to arrive at an agreement that will be mutually satisfactory to both the landowners and the city.”

Jolley said negotiations for a development agreement could potentially span a wide range of propositions.

For example, landowners have proposed cutting about 4,000 acres of the project along the corridors for highways 286 and 2444, he said. But his clients could consider commercial and residential development in the area, without the wind turbines, should the city propose to provide certain municipal services, Jolley said.

The area that lies in the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction represents only a portion of the site for the wind farm near Chapman Ranch. In all, Apex had planned to build an estimated 20,000-acre wind farm, populated by about 175 turbines, on private lands leased near Chapman Ranch.

It was unclear Tuesday afternoon how the city’s prospective annexation plans could affect the project. An Apex representative could not immediately be reached for comment.

The next steps in the annexation process will be to notify the landowners of the city’s intent, then hold two public hearings, which are scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Aug. 19 and Aug. 26 in chambers at City Hall, 1201 Leopard St.

City staff will also begin work on creating a plan for extending municipal services.

Because there are 16 homes within the area, the costs to extend city services needed immediately, such as police and fire protection and access to libraries, could be absorbed into city department budgets, according to city documents. Assistant City Manager Wes Pierson on Monday didn’t give an exact figure, but described the costs as “very nominal.”

But it is not clear what long-term investment would be. Capital improvements for wastewater and water service would be needed as the area grows.

Pierson said preliminary estimates for those infrastructure improvements could run about $13 million to $14 million, but cautioned those figures contain a number of variables and the improvements would not be needed for several years.

Wind farm developers have asserted that their understanding of “growth trends suggests there will not be significant growth in the area of Chapman Ranch for 30-50 years.” By that time the wind farm will have reached the end of its operational life, according to a letter the company sent to the council.

In public comments, real estate investor John Helm told the council he thought annexation was necessary to avoid putting “the city’s future in tremendous jeopardy,” since he believes it is the only way for the city to grow. He added that he owns a development near the proposed wind farm.

“At this point in time, I cannot give away a lot,” he said. “They come out, they look at the property and they say, ‘Where’s the wind farm going to be?’ I say, ‘In your backyard.’ And they walk away.”