After months of preparation, the State Office of Administrative Hearings today began proceedings in Austin regarding a proposed 138,000-volt transmission line across Frisco. This power line has been at the center of a hotly contested debate between Frisco homeowner associations and Realtors on one side and Brazos Electric, CoServ Electric, and the Public Utility Commission (PUC) on the other.
“All the witnesses are done [as of this evening], with briefs due Aug. 28 and reply briefs due Sept. 11,” said Adam Majorie, Government Affairs Director for the Collin County Association of Realtors (CCAR). He spoke to CandysDirt this evening after finishing the day in the hearings. “Once all the briefs are done, the two administrative law judges will go about the task of rendering their decision.”
Of the 715 intervenors testifying (most through written testimony), 683 were part of the Bury the Lines Campaign. The remainder of the intervenors were people from the city of Frisco, Brazos Electric, homeowners not represented by the Bury the Lines campaign, and the PUC staff.
The West Frisco Homeowners Coalition (WFHOC) and CCAR joined forces in September 2014, creating a grassroots campaign, burythelines.org, to oppose the above-ground high-voltage transmission line built by Brazos Electric on behalf of CoServ Electric. They say the line, which will be built through heavily populated neighborhoods along Main Street or Stonebrook Parkway to the Dallas North Tollway, will adversely affect property values and infringe on homeowner property rights. The campaign wants power lines buried, instead.
From the beginning, this has been a highly unusual situation, with Collin County Realtors fighting side-by-side with homeowners.
During the “administration/discovery phase” prior to today’s hearings (where motions and answers are filed, similar to a lawsuit), the Bury the Lines campaign put forth both homeowner and expert witness testimony. The homeowners’ testimony concentrated on the effect above-ground lines would have on the neighborhood, as well as the perceived detrimental impact on property values. The expert testimony concentrated specifically on quantifying the decline in property values if above-ground lines are built.
All testimony that touched on Frisco property values was objected to by both Brazos and the PUC staff, who called the arguments “irrelevant” to the issue. The judges sustained the objection and that expert witness testimony was stricken from the record, as well as some homeowner testimony.
“We asked to have the proceedings moved to Frisco so people didn’t have to drive all the way to Austin, but that motion was denied,” Majorie said. “We then followed up on that ruling by asking to have the proceedings videotaped and the PUC staff objected because they didn’t wan to try this case in the press and snippets of the video proceedings could be taken out of context. So the proceedings are not videotaped, although they will be transcribed and we plan on putting the transcripts on the website.”
Majorie said the issue that PUC staff keeps asserting is that “undergrounding” the lines is not essential to meeting the requirements of the statutes and the additional costs are not something that should be borne buy anything by anybody except the citizens of Frisco. But expert testimony today focused on a similar case in Nueces County where the PUC buried 4.5 miles of power lines going past a naval station airport at a cost of $18 million to the Texas taxpayers.
“The cheapest above-ground route is $5.6 million, and the cost of undergrounding the lines is $34 million, a difference of about $28 million,” Majorie said. “The city of Frisco is willing to contribute to joint development of the medium on Main Street, a $10 million value, so the gap is about $18 million, roughly the same amount approved for Nueces County. We believe the facts of this face are nearly identical to that situation.”
Marjorie continued: “We think the proceedings show that Brazos is perfectly willing to underground these lines—the the only party in opposition is the PUC staff. The PUC staff says nobody in the rest of Texas would benefit from the additional cost of undergrounding the lines [in Frisco], when everyone had to pay the costs to underground the naval station lines in Nueces County.”