Concern over wind farm regulation and national park concessionaires took center stage during a recent discussion between county commissioners court and their Washington, D.C., lobbyists.
Val Verde County Commissioners Court members heard an update on the lobbying efforts of Madison Government Affairs, the firm that represents county interests in the nation’s capital.
Jack Hession and Paul J. Hirsch represented the company at the commissioners court meeting and spoke about some of the issues of local concern.
Hirsch told the court during the last week of 2019, Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act, which creates a new branch of the military, the United States Space Force.
“The Air Force Space Command has morphed into its own service. So they’ll eventually have new uniforms, new emblems, new fight song, things like that. It will be a separate service, very similar to what we have with the Marine Corps and the Department of the Navy, that kind of relationship,” Hirsch said.
He said “the big fight” now would be to see where the new command will be headquartered, whether in Colorado or Alabama and noted the decision will likely be heavily influenced by national politics.
Another issue discussed was the wind farms in the central and northern parts of the county. At issue is the impact those wind farms may have on Laughlin Air Force Base and its pilot training mission.
“Here’s the problem: There’s nobody in any agency, state or federal, that regulates wind farms, and until you fix that, we’re not going to be in a position to do much about it. We have made numerous attempts at the state level to get authority to regulate them with zero luck,” County Commissioner Pct. 3 Beau Nettleton said.
“At the end of the day, we can make all the comments we want, but they’re going to go build them and nobody’s going to stop them. That’s just the reality of it,” the commissioner added.
Nettleton said he is not against wind farms, but noted some of the land in Val Verde County is essential to the success of Laughlin’s mission.
He added wind farms are here to stay and brought up wind farm encroachment problems being faced by the Kingsville Naval Air Station in south Texas.
“What irritates me about the state is that until we lose a couple of bases because of encroachment, they’re not going to wake up. We have to have something in place that gives somebody some sort of authority… Somebody has to have the ability to say no and that’s the focus that needs to have to happen here. Our efforts in Washington have to be focused on some authority, that when the base says, ‘This is a problem area for us,’ somebody has some authority to say yeah, you can’t build it there, and that’s been the issue for a very long time when it comes to regulating wind farms,” Nettleton said.
Hirsch agreed, but noted in Texas the issue is especially problematic because of its history and culture of strong landowner rights.
“I’m perfectly, 100 percent supportive of private property rights, but at the end of the day, the economic engine that drives this community and most military communities, be it San Antonio, be it Kingsville, be it Dyess, I don’t care which it is, if they lose that economic engine – and people don’t think BRAC is coming back, but it is coming back – . . . so you need everything set on your side so that you have all your issues protected,” Nettleton replied.
He said that is the reason the court went to the lengths it did in protecting the acreage outside Laughlin. . .
“The wind farms are going to continue to come. It’s the wave of the future, and I’m all for it, don’t misunderstand. But until we come up with a way to regulate it, we’re going to have a long-term problem,” Nettleton said.
“I have to agree with that, and it needs to come out of Washington,” Hirsch said.
“What we need you to work on is getting somebody in to give somebody some authority,” Nettleton said.
He said he realized this would be “a long, drawn-out process,” but he said it needed to start somewhere.
Nettleton also asked Hirsch and Hession about concessions at the Amistad National Recreation Area.
“There’s no reason we shouldn’t have trail riding, horseback riding. There’s no reason we shouldn’t have a whole bunch of different options for concessions, and I’ve always wondered why it’s so difficult here. You go up to (Lake) Mead, and they have all kinds of stuff. You go to the Grand Canyon, and they have hotels and a bar. Why is it so difficult for us to accomplish that task here when at Zion I can take my four-wheeler and ride through the park, and do whatever I want. I don’t understand why we can’t accomplish that task here?” Nettleton asked.
“What do we need to do to make it easier for people to get a concession and operate within the park?” he added.
“We have 180 miles of shoreline, and we need to be able to open that park to the public, which then brings in tourism, which then helps the community and hotels and restaurants and everything else. I think we need to look at how to loosen those restrictions, because it is public land at the end of the day. The taxpayers pay for it, and they ought to be able to use it,” Nettleton said.
“There’s lot of money to be made for this community from tourism if you can access the park,” he added.
The lobbyists took the commissioners court’s comments under advisement and took no formal action following the presentation.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding