Don't Cross Phil
By Amy Smith, Fri., Oct. 24, 2003
Is Phil Gramm playing the NIMBY card? That seems to be the only explanation for Washington's sudden interest in the placement of a proposed transmission line in western Bexar Co., where the former senator and his wife Wendy just happen to own a large spread.
The Gramms are among several large landowners opposed to the construction of a 345-kilovolt line that would run from western Bexar to western Kendall counties. One of the proposed routes, along State Highway 211, would cross a private road that leads to the Gramm property. The Gramms don't want the transmission line crossing their private road.
Hardly anyone doubts that the Gramm connection is likely why San Antonio's City Public Service department is under pressure to scrap its condemnation plans and come up with an alternate route -- through a nearby state natural preserve called Government Canyon.
CPS project manager Ralph Alonzo said Wendy Gramm attended a private meeting with him during which landowners questioned why Government Canyon wasn't included among the utility's proposed routes for the line. Since then, Alonzo said, he's gotten calls from the offices of U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, and Gov. Rick Perry. "We've had transmission lines with a high level of interest before, but none to this degree," Alonzo said. "Right now they're just asking questions," he added. "They're all being polite and very professional."
The Trust for Public Land in Austin assembled Government Canyon through a series of land acquisitions paid for with public and private dollars. Texas Parks and Wildlife oversees the park -- more than 8,203 acres of pristine land in the recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer -- which will open to the public next year. "The timing of that transmission line would be disastrous," said TPL Executive Director Valarie Bristol. "Government Canyon was largely bought by the people of San Antonio who want to protect this tremendous recharge area, which would also serve to educate visitors. The whole purpose would be negatively impacted by this line cutting across this natural area."
At issue is whether the various funding sources for Government Canyon carried legally binding stipulations that preclude the construction of transmission lines. Financial donors included eight private foundations, San Antonio businessman Tim Hixon, and Martin Marietta Materials Southwest; local, state, and federal dollars rounded out the contributors.
Scott Boruff, TPW's deputy executive director, said Sen. Hutchison's office inquired last week into the funding mechanisms used to acquire the property. "Government Canyon was cobbled together with different pots of money, and each of those pots has different restrictions of what you can do on the land," he said. "We have heard about the possibility of an alternate route through [Government Canyon], but until we see a proposal from [City Public Service], there isn't much we can say about it at this point."
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