The question of whether 345kV transmission lines will cut across the heart of San Saba County has moved closer to a decision. Oncor, the company that would build and operate the lines, defended Route 255 (its preferred route) at a hearing that was held in Austin during the week of January 11th. Route 255 would cut a 50-mile long swath through the County crossing the Colorado River twice and the San Saba River once.
During the hearing, Route 140, a more northerly route which bypasses San Saba County, emerged as an important alternative to Oncor’s preference.
The hearing was conducted by State Administrative Law Judges (ALJs). Briefs, which review and summarize testimony, were filed after the hearing and are available on the PUC’s web site (www.puc.state.tx.us), Docket #37464.
The ALJs will submit their opinion to the PUC by March 4. The PUC is scheduled to announce its decision at an open meeting in Austin on March 26.
Here’s a summary of the major developments occurring during the hearing:
· The Texas Public Utility Commission staff and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department did not support Oncor’s proposal. The PUC staff recommended Route 140. TPWD opposed any route crossing the Colorado River.
· Several parties opposed Route 255. River Creek Ranch, Smithco River Ranches, 3 Trees Ranch, Lometa Landowners, POSSE and Protect our Winchell were among those favoring Route 140.
· POSSE (Preserve Our San Saba Environment) represented a large group of San Saba County landowners. POSSE and others brought in expert witnesses including paid engineering and environmental professionals.
· Witnesses opposing Route 255 provided data outlining the negative consequences of this route. David Williams, Chair of San Saba’s Historical Commission, provided extensive detail about the historical sites that would be affected.
At this point, the main question seems to be whether the ALJs will choose Oncor’s preferred Route 255 or the more northerly Route 140.
Highlights from Oncor’s brief include:
· Oncor "stands ready to build any of the alternative routes."
· Oncor’s preferred Route 255 "does not significantly impact community values, recreational and park areas, historical and aesthetic values, or the environmental integrity of the area."
· Oncor "received and considered input regarding community values through the public involvement program. Oncor held three public open house meetings." The meetings were held in Lampasas, Goldthwaite and Brownwood.
The PUC Staff recommended Route 140. Excerpts from its brief include:
· "Commission Staff and many intervenors opposed Oncor’s Route 255 for various reasons…."
· "The part of the Colorado River within the study area is an Ecologically Significant Stream Segment (ESSS) as classified by TPWD and is documented as exhibiting a high aesthetic value. Route 140 is one of 24 proposed routes that do not cross the Colorado River."
· "…Route 140 has a number of advantages and should be selected. Route 140 is the shortest, least expensive route and affects the second lowest number of habitable structures. Route 140 does not cross the Colorado River and less than 1/2 percent of its total length traverses open water (lakes, ponds). Route 140 does not go across any parks or recreational areas nor is it within 1000 feet of any parks or recreational areas. Route 140 does not go through any commercial industrial areas, does not cross any mobile irrigation systems and does not cross any AM radio transmitters. Route 140 has the fifth shortest distance (0.93 mile) through potential endangered species habitat, has the 5th shortest distance (10.85 miles) across areas of high prehistoric and historic archaeological site potential and has the 6th shortest distance (4.93 miles) in the foreground visual zone of State and U.S. highways. Ninety-two percent of Route 140 traverses pastureland, which is a desirable routing feature."
During the period from March 4 – March 26, citizens may make their voices heard by sending letters to the PUC, contacting state representatives or the Governor, by encouraging local officials and community groups to take action or by supporting POSSE.
POSSE(www.sansabaposse.org) is a non-profit corporation working to keep the Oncor transmission lines out of San Saba County. POSSE has received donations from almost 100 people totaling more than $77,000 which has been spent primarily for legal fees. POSSE believes the cost to finish the job will be an additional $75,000 in legal fees.
If you’re interested in going to the PUC’s meeting on March 26 (the date is subject to change), need a ride or would like to caravan with others, please call POSSE at 325.372.4346 or e-mail them at email@example.com.
For more information about the proposed Oncor transmission line, please visit the San Saba News & Star website (www.sansabanews.com) and search the data base for "Oncor Transmission Lines." Several articles are available providing background information and context.