By Jade Ortego
Killeen Daily Herald
Lampasas River Valley residents continue to fight the potential encroachment of Oncor Electric Delivery on their land, despite threats that their efforts, including identifying endangered species on the property, may go unfulfilled.
Residents have been attempting to make it legally difficult for the company to build its 12-story high electrical pylons in the area since early in the summer when Oncor sent out notices by mail. The letters went to anyone who lived on or owned land within 500 feet of any proposed route that must be chosen by the Public Utilities Commission next spring.
This fall, Oncor must submit its preferred route and a list of alternate routes to the PUC for consideration. Residents of Maxdale, Ding Dong, Oakalla and other rural communities protested when informed of the size and scope of the project.
"A lot of people didn't pay attention [to the letter], or …think it's telephone poles," Eyberg said.
Some, like Eyberg, feel that the bulldozing involved with the Newton-Killeen project, as it called by Oncor, will kill wildlife and harm the ecosystem and the Lampasas River.
On the land are Guadalupe Bass, golden-cheeked warblers and nesting bald eagles, all endangered species.
Members of Save the Lampasas Inc. and the Maxdale/Ding Dong Association, another nonprofit dedicated to preserving the area, have encouraged potentially affected residents to report the existence of endangered species on their land.
Karen Clary, resource specialist for Texas Parks and Wildlife habitat assessment program, said that having endangered species on the land isn't enough to stop the project.
"If there are endangered species on the property, Oncor would have to consult with Fish and Wildlife Service. … Oncor would get a permit to take birds or any endangered species, which 'take' means to kill," Clary said. This process would take about six months, she said.
Still, Clary said, the existence of endangered species is among a list of constraints – like scenic routes – that Oncor must consider and theoretically use to decide on their preferred route this fall.
"I don't know if you have the highest amount (of constraints) you'll be the winner, because they have other factors as well. But it can't hurt," Clary said.
Chris Schein, a spokesman for Oncor, said that his company takes the existence of endangered species very seriously when considering a preferred route. He stressed, however, that Oncor doesn't make the ultimate decision.
"I don't know that there's necessarily an order of importance," Schein said, referring to the list of constraints. They take everything into consideration, he said.
Representatives from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which Oncor will consult in the process of choosing a preferred route, have been out to the potentially affected areas to talk to the landowners about endangered species on their land.
"If we look at routes and see that there's less of an impact to endangered species if we go this way verses this way, we're going to take the least impacted route. ... But we need to hear from the land owners, we need to know what's on their land," said Allison Arnold, senior fish and wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Nothing is guaranteed, however. "We're not here to stop development," she said.
U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's office sent out a statement regarding the efforts of the residents: "Senator Hutchison is sensitive to Texas wildlife. … Growth and development are important to our state's economy, but local and state development ordinances should be followed."
Tuesday, Burnet County commissioners designated County Road 223 in Lampasas a "county scenic river road."
"It was part of the old river road from Lampasas to Austin, first a walking trail and then a horse and buggy path and finally a beautiful rustic rural road," Save the Lampasas Inc. president Lynn Eyberg wrote on the nonprofit organization's Web site, www.savethelampasas.org.
Save the Lampasas Inc. is holding a fundraiser at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Oakalla Fire Department at the intersection of Farm-to-Market 963 and FM 2657. There will be barbecue, a live band and a silent auction.
The fundraiser is to raise money for legal representation when the routes are presented to the PUC for the final decision on the route's location.
"It's an old fashioned party with a good message. Everyone in the community is invited," Eyberg said. "It's a good cause but it's also a very personal cause."
Contact Jade Ortego at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7553.