Commissioners jockey for $$ with wind farm company

Finding a common ground that both parties can stomach seemed to be the primary focus of Monday’s County Commissioners meeting which saw county officials meeting with Renewable Energy Systems land acquisition specialist William Coats to discuss a contract for easement with Rattlesnake Wind Power. On the agenda for approval of a contract for easement for an electrical transmission line, to stretch approximately seven miles along County Road 330, the item drew a considerable amount of discussion concerning the rate of pay afforded to the county for such a right-of-way. The commissioners executed their right to adjourn into executive session, and after a brief private meeting with County Attorney Mark Marshall, voted to make a counter offer to RES’s $50,000 offer at $200,000. After first going to the private landowners along this right-of-way path and receiving both positive and negative feedback, the RES group made the decision to approach the county with the option of using County Road 330. “It made sense to build it on this road; we won’t have to blade it because it’s already done,” Coats explained. “One thing that will increase cost by being on the county right-of-way is that it’s a narrow road. We’re going to try and keep it narrow, but it’s going to be tricky construction and will cost a little bit more money, adding 30 percent to the final price tag. Another reason we’re trying to get as good of a deal as possible is that building transmission lines is expensive’period. “We’re pushing the envelope as far as where we’ll put a wind farm and how long of a transmission line we’ll build (estimated costs are about $1,000,000 per mile). “We’re asking that you give us the best deal you can stomach to try and help the project along,” said Coats. “I’m at least somewhat apprehensive about binding the county in perpetuity,” said County Judge Randy Young. He asked if the county and RES could come to an agreement to bring the item back to the court in 30 years to renegotiate the rate or to consider a fixed price after a certain point in time. “I don’t think that’s unreasonable,” Coats told the group Monday morning. “I can try to get approval for that and if I can, I would greatly appreciate the best up-front price you can stomach. We’re taking a little dings in the project from the landowners and some of these up-front costs do hinder the project.” According to Coats, the company already has one easement signed, is close to that point with two other land owners and has come to a challenge with another land owner for a one-mile stretch of property. While the rate the county is proposing is considerably greater than the proposal RES has presented, both the commissioners and Coats felt the need to point out the difference in an easement from the county and one from a private individual. “Again, when you’re looking at one of the private landowner’s deals as opposed to the county, it is quite a bit different,” said Coats. “All of those issues make those deals a little bit hard to look at right next to each other.” “It’s a hard thing to negotiate as a public entity,” said Young. “Obviously to make a decision, we’ve got to get a motion passed here.” With the table open for recommendations, Commissioner Jerry Bratton made the motion that the county make the counter offer at $200,000. In responding to the increase, Coates commented, “That’s more than we’re paying the private landowners, and we don’t want to send the wrong message to them. We just have to see what kind of pain threshold we have. This might mess up all our other negotiations with the other landowners. In explaining the county’s decision with the requested amount, Young noted that Precinct 1 will experience added expense for road work with increased truck traffic going in and out of the area during the construction process. Young did add that the county might consider accepting a one-time payment for fixing those roads and a different, lower rate for the easement. “We need to get more creative about how we need to deal with this,” Coats told the commissioners. “That’s beyond the top of the market for a right-of- way easement. I’m not offended by it, but I’m trying to look at the big picture here. “We do have other options: we could go back to the private land owners but we might end up paying the same. It’s a lot more than we expected. The $50,000 we think is a market offer.” Marshall explained his determination in suggesting the county’s counter offer, stating that he doesn’t want the county to be taken advantage of if they learn of another county going through the same process acquires “x” number of dollars over what the county is granted. “We don’t want to set the market higher than it is,” Coats explained. “This is above were we’re getting deals done with this project. Understanding that no conclusion would be seen during Monday’s meeting, the recommendation was made that both Young and Marshall meet with Coates and RES representatives to discuss the county’s options. Rather than try to “meet in the middle” Young suggested it would be the best chance for the county and RES to review the most suitable options for both parties and to bring the item back to the commissioners when the meet again in regular session. “We want the project to go, number one, and we want to be the ones to do it,” Young explained. “One-hundred percent of nothing is nothing. We understand that and we want to make things happen. I will say that we want this to work some way or some how.” Also addressed during the meeting, the commissioners considered appointments to the McCulloch County Board of Development. “This is a five-member committee appointed to allocate the money that we have appointed to the county board of development,” said Young. “The funds they disburse are strictly to advertise and promote the growth and development of the county.” The five-member panel is responsible for reviewing all funding applications and determining where to disburse such funds. According to Young, at the very most, the board will meet three times each year; however, the normal schedule calls for only one meeting at which time all funds are disbursed. With both Commissioners Brent Deeds and Joe Johnson making recommendations to the board, as well as Judge Young, the court approved the following individuals to serve one-year terms: Phil Graves, Chad Everett, Gregory Hector, Earl Behrens (who currently serves on the board), Bobby David and Conise Patterson, current board member, as an alternate should one of the recommendations choose not to serve. Up next, the commissioners discussed the appointment of members to the Historical Commission Board. “What we need is some people to step forth with this,” said Young, adding that this year the historical commission will be facing it’s most important task in the upcoming renovation project of the McCulloch County Courthouse, funded by the Texas Historical Commission. “We need people with special skills: organizationally-minded, historically-minded, and a vast cross-section from the county as far as ethnicity, age and location.” According to Young, the county is required to have a five-member board; however, it is not limited to five. “We need some real go-getters to help with this job,” Young added. “We will have some pretty important duties for them.” The county’s previous chairman, Ed Hernandez, has agreed to serve again, and according to Young was a huge benefit to the board. With no new members appointed, the commissioners agreed to move the item to the next meeting so that commissioners could rally support for the board and compile a list of candidates willing and able to serve the county during its crucial historical renovation process. “It’s very important that we get a board appointed by the next time the county meets,” Young concluded. “An 18-year-old getter who is interested in history can be just as beneficial as an 80-year-old who knows the local history. “We’re asking people to step forward and serve on the board,” said Young. “It will be a good opportunity for somebody.” Another item that was on the agenda but saw no action during the meeting was a proposal from cell phone services Cellular One and West Central Wireless. Instead, the item will be addressed at a later meeting when representatives can be present. With a shortage of jailers to oversee inmates at the McCulloch County Jail, Sheriff Earl Howell addressed the commissioners on Monday and requested payment to have inmates housed in Comanche at a cost of $35 per day. Currently, the county has 20 inmates in possession with four of those locked up on state charges for crimes committed outside of McCulloch County and 10-12 individuals who are tied up in district court in a process that can be drawn out over several months. The request for immediate approval of funds was approved by the court on Monday, and according to Howell, outside jail services will be needed until the department is back at full-staff. As an information item, County Clerk Tina Smith reported that a building has been located and could possibly fulfill the requirements needed for her office to be relocated. Located on the north east side of the square, the building is up for sale at an asking price of $46,000, according to Mrs. Smith. Once the final grant applicants are notified of funding (as late as Jan. 26), the county will have six months to relocate its offices from the courthouse. If the county is granted the restoration funds’ which is expected’the building can be evaluated to see which vaulting options will be most suited for the county. There are a wide range of requirements which the county must consider when vaulting all legal documents on file in the county clerk’s office. Also, the commissioners were briefed on the improvements taking place at the old appraisal district building which will house several county offices throughout the duration of the renovation project. “We hope to make a recommendation to the court for the next meeting on where to relocate the county clerk’s office,” Young concluded.

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