It’s time to act, but some people still have basic questions. Here are some that we are hearing a lot. Add others in the comments.
What exactly is happening?
The LCRA wants to add high power transmission lines from Round Rock to Cedar Park and Leander, and two substations, to serve future development needs in those areas. Several of the proposed routes run through or along the neighborhoods that border 1431 and CR175. Lines and a substation also could be in or near the Williamson County Park on CR175.
The LCRA is the power company that would build the lines and substations, but the Public Utility Commission of Texas will decide where the lines go. This is a highly regulated process that will take about a year. First, the LCRA makes the proposal; next, an administrative court hears the case and makes a recommendation as to where the lines should be; and last, the PUC reviews everything and makes a decision.
What stage are we in?
The LCRA has done its initial studies and has applied to carry out the project. Right now, we are in the 45-day period when everyone affected is supposed to be notified and given an opportunity to become in involved. The deadline is June 13.
The LCRA has identified a route that “meets the PUC requirements.” That route is west down 1431 to CR175, where the lines would head north. Please see Route 31 on this map. http://gis.lcra.org/Html5Viewer/?viewer=ccn-lrr
I got a letter, but I’m not on 1431. Does that mean I’m safe?
No. The PUC will make the final decision. They could pick Route 31, another route, and any combination of the segments studied by the LCRA. Arterial H, the route behind Chandler Oaks Elementary and behind Cactus Ranch Elementary, and even the Brushy Creek Trail still could be chosen. The LCRA identified 31 potential routes and dozens of segments.
What should I do?
Right now, if you are directly affected, you have until June 13 to join the process. You can file to be an intervenor or file a letter of protest. As this moves ahead, this becomes a structured, legal process. Only intervenors will be included in the process, can present testimony or evidence, or can be involved in negotiations or discussions that might take place. Here’s the intervenor form: http://www.save1431.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/PUC-Intervention-Application.pdf
Being an intervenor sounds tough? What if I don’t think I can?
Apparently, the basics of being an intervenor is to file the application that came with the packet from the LCRA and to file a position statement. If you find that you can’t meet the requirements, you can drop out. However, YOU CAN NEVER GET BACK IN. Anyone who misses the intervenor deadline is out of the process, even if the favored route becomes the one behind your house or if it’s proposed that the line move 20 feet closer to your house. You MUST file to be an intervenor by June 13 to be part of the process.
I hate the lines, but I’m not within 300 feet. What can I do?
Only people within 300 feet of the centerline have the right to be intervenors, but you can intervene. You just need a good reason as to why you are “affected.” An attorney we spoke to says a good way to intervene is to form a group that would be affected. It could be concerned parents of children at a preschool or elementary school, parents of kids who play in our greenspaces, runners at the Williamson County Park or even those who exercise under Arterial H. What is your reason? Do you want your kids flying kites under these lines? Playing on the playground by them? Do you keep bees or operate a ham radio?
Isn’t this already decided? Why bother to intervene?
It is not decided. The PUC decides, and it won’t decide for probably a year. The PUC does not have to follow the recommendation of the LCRA. And while the PUC is making decisions that affect you, your property and your family, you have the right to have a say in that decision.
Can I just write a letter?
Yes. Letters are welcome, but letters don’t meet the standard of evidence, so sadly, they don’t do much to sway the PUC.
Can I talk to someone in charge?
If we can’t answer your questions, please call Christian Powell. He is in charge of this application at the LCRA. Part of his job is to answer your questions: 800-776-5272, ext. 7051.
Why is this happening?
In 2014, ERCOT, a state agency that ensures Texas residents have adequate electricity, evaluated the power needs and options in this region, and it recommended that the LCRA connect the Round Rock and Leander substations. http://www.lcra.org/energy/electric-transmission/transmission-line-routing/Documents/LPRR-ERCOT-Endorsement-Letter.pdf
The LCRA and independent engineers created a plan and identified numerous segments in the area. In October, letters identifying the segments were sent out to all property owners within 300 feet. Since then, the LCRA has taken feedback, and in April, it submitted an application for the project to the PUC.
Are these different from regular power lines?
Yes, these are high voltage lines. It’s a 138 kV transmission line meant to carry lots of electricity over long distances. The poles would be 80-140 feet tall and generally require a 30-60 foot wide clear cut path beneath them. Additional easements also can be required. The LCRA wants an 80-foot easement in most parts of the line.
Can’t we bury the lines?
No. It’s very unusual to bury the lines. It’s extremely expensive, it shortens the lifespan of the lines and it makes it very difficult to repair the lines if needed. The LCRA, city of Round Rock and the county wouldn’t support it. There is a push to bury new lines in Frisco, TX, but that case is different, and it is not resolved. http://www.save1431.com/frisco-cant-we-just-bury-the-lines/
Can’t we make everyone pay more/pay a fee/pay a property tax assessment?
The project will be paid for by electricity ratepayers. The PUC’s job is to protect ratepayers. Although this project is huge for us, it’s one of many electricity projects going on in Texas. The PUC would charge a fee for our project when it doesn’t do that same for other projects.
Won’t my city/county want to fight the loss of taxable value?
Unfortunately, the PUC does not consider loss of property value in its decision. The city or county might support a route that minimizes property value loss, but they do not control the process, and the PUC does not have to follow their recommendations.
What about the “10 houses?” There are more than 10 house affected!
The total number of “newly affected habitable structures” on route 31, according the the LCRA application, is 146. Structures within 150 feet of each side of the line are considered “affected.”
The “10 houses” statement comes from the Round Rock City Council. In March, the City Council passed a resolution to support what they called the least harmful route to Round Rock citizens. According to the city, only 10 homes in the city will be newly directly affected by Route 31. Those 10 homes are in the Stone Oak neighborhood, and the lines would go directly behind those yards. The city did not count the other Stone Oak homes that are within 150 feet nor the Preserve at Mayfield Ranch homes that will be within 150 feet.
Many other homes in this same area are NOT in the city limits. So although those residents have a Round Rock address, they are not city residents, and the city was not speaking about them.
More than 10 houses in the city of Round Rock would be affected, but all the other properties already are affected by a high voltage transmission line. Those lines would be upgraded.
Can we vote them out if they pick our route?
No. The three PUC commissioners are appointed by the governor.
Can we vote out the city councils that support this?
Sure, but it probably won’t help. The cities of Round Rock, Cedar Park and Leander have supported routes that run through our area. The truth is that the city is simply a party to this, as are the homeowners and the county. Unfortunately, the city (or the county) cannot make anything happen or not happen. The LCRA also says that it doesn’t make any decisions. Only the PUC decides.
Your best course might be to contact your representatives and urge them to intervene on your behalf. You can demand that they support their citizens through the process, even if they can’t stop the process.
Will the county help?
The county has voted to become an intervenor in the process, which really just means that the county can be involved in the negotiations. The commissioners said that they might not necessarily agree on the best route, but as owners of the county parks, they want to be involved. By all means, call your county commissioner and tell her where you want to the lines and substations.
Do I need an attorney?
Probably not. If you want to intervene, there’s a form that you can fill out yourself to submit, and then you will have to submit testimony in writing. That will get you involved in the process.
If you want to fight this hard, with expert witnesses, or you want to cross examine people or challenge evidence, you might want an attorney. We spoke to an attorney who is a former PUC commissioner. She charges $300 an hour and says other lawyers charge $300-$500 per hour for such services. A battle can cost $25,000 to $50,000. She recommends forming a group to reduce costs.
If the lines simply go near your property, the LCRA is not required to reimburse you for anything, so there’s nothing for an attorney to help you claim.
If the LCRA buys an easement on to your property, they are required to pay market value. We are told that the trend right now is to pay 150 percent of market value. Also, if the LCRA damages any of your property, their standard is to replace it with what was there or even better. For instance, if they take down your fence, they will repair it to its previous condition or build you a new better fence. If the LCRA were to buy an easement into your property, the value of that is decided after the PUC makes it’s decision.
If the PUC does choose a route that requires the LCRA to buy an easement, you could hire a lawyer to help you negotiate the settlement.
Will I get any money from the power company because of this?
If the LCRA buys your property or buys an easement into your property, you will be reimbursed. If they run the line on an easement behind your property, you will not be reimbursed for anything.