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Judge’s support of power-line route raises Burnet County commissioner’s ire

BURNET — The path of a proposed high-voltage electrical line getting support from a state administrative law judge is causing sparks among some Burnet County commissioners.

The judge supports an alternative route to the one favored by the Commissioners Court and others because she says it protects the habitats of some endangered birds.

State Administrative Law Judge Wendy Harvel’s decision still faces approval from the Public Utilities Commission, and critics are urging residents to pack a hearing next month to show their disapproval.

Detractors said the plan backed by Harvel calls for 18-story lattice towers that will ruin the view around Lake Buchanan and have an adverse environmental impact.

"I am very, very disappointed," Precinct 1 Commissioner Bill Neve said during the court’s regular meeting Tuesday.

“I hope the citizens who live on the Burnet side of Lake Buchanan will sing out loudly and let their voice be heard (at the PUC meeting),” Neve added. “We hope to have stickers to wear, so the board will know who we are. An orderly show of discourse is the right and privilege of all citizens — even more so if you are being left out of the process.”

The row actually began several months ago, when the Lower Colorado River Authority Transmission Service Corp. proposed the installation of a new line from Gillespie County to Lampasas County at the proposed Newton station in Kempner.

For about $162 million, the line connects wind-powered electricity generators in West Texas competitive renewable energy zones to the Hill Country.

The route proposed by LCRA runs through Burnet County on lattice towers along the eastern border of Lake Buchanan.

However, commissioners and local residents cited several environmental concerns and voiced their objections.

Last January, PUC staff recommended another route to extend through Llano and San Saba counties below Colorado Bend State Park without touching any part of the lake in Burnet County.

Part of the route recommended by PUC would run across the northern part of the county through FM 1478, U.S. 281 and U.S. 183 to Kempner, officials said.

The commissioners applauded the staff recommendation.

However, Harvel recently issued a “proposal for decision” that recommends installation of the line east of Lake Buchanan.

Extension of the line east of the lake “is the better choice” because it would extend along existing right of way, cost less money and pose “lesser impact on environmental integrity,” Harvel said in her proposal issued March 18.

North of Lake Buchanan, the line would run for much of its distance through rural, sparsely populated land, Harvel said.

However, the route through the northern area would run without existing right of way and threaten the golden-cheeked warbler and the black-capped Vireo, two endangered bird species, Harvel added.

Neve voiced his opposition to Harvel in a prepared statement addressed to “Burnet County Citizens.”

The proposed line along east Lake Buchanan would be set on a lattice tower structure 18 stories tall, Neve said.

“It would be the tallest structure in Burnet County,” Neve added. “There would not be a place along the lake where it would not be intrusive to the scenic beauty of the area.”

The PUC board will consider the Harvel decision and other transmission line proposals when it meets 9:30 a.m. April 15 in Austin at the William B. Travis Building, 1701 N. Congress Avenue, Neve said.

Neve said he may ask state Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, to voice support for a line north of the lake or maybe the installation of a monopole for the line, rather than a lattice tower.

The board must make a decision on the line location by April 26, Neve added.

Burnet resident Jo Karr Tedder told the commissioners she has invited several neighbors to attend the PUC meeting.

“I have already received about 30 ‘I-will-be-there’ responses,” Tedder told the commissioners.

The proposed line along east Lake Buchanan would have a “negative impact on tourism” and disturb the natural beauty of the area, Tedder said.

“It is a big issue,” Tedder added. “We are really concerned about it.”