Wen dy Wa tr iss /Fre d Ba ldw in in North Texas. Nothing was said about the lignite leasing and exploration program being carried out by the cities with Brazos Electric, or their plans for a 400-megawatt lignite plant in East Texas. The bill passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate. Although voters and taxpayers in the cities and the lignite area knew little about the bill, the private companies were actively involved. “They were definitely consulted,” says Ernie Tullos, a Denton utility engineer and member of TMPA’s technical committee. “They took out what they wanted. A rider that limited applicability of the act was one thing the private companies put in. We are part of the Texas Interconnect System. We have to work closely with Texas Utilities.” Before the bill left committee, Senator Creighton had added two clauses to benefit the private companies by limiting its coverage to public entities already in the power business when the act became law, and limiting the market for a municipal power agency’s output to private and public entities that are joint owners with the agency of a Texas power plant Ironically, it was the private power companies that added a measure of public control to the bill, albeit for their own benefit. Creighton introduced two changes at their behest, requiring voter approval of decisions by public bodies to create such power agencies after January 1, 1977, or to join an already existing agency after April 1, 1976. These stipulations were meant to protect private utilities from a proliferation of public agencies. However, no elections were required for agencies created before January 1977. So for TMPA, all that was needed was the passage of concurrent ordinances by the four sponsoring city councils. Carte blanche City officials did little to encourage public discussion once the measure was passed. Even though their plans called for an enormous investment of $5.4 billion between 1978 and 1994 to build six new coal and lignite units and three nuclear units and to acquire part ownership of Comanche Peak, neither the press nor public officials questioned them. Travis Bryant III, former Bryan councilman and board member of TMPA since its inception, says: “We were given to think the cities had no choice. The utility directors and city managers were telling us it was either TMPA or getting out of the public power business.” In all four cities, ordinances creating TMPA were passed as emergency measures on July 18, 1975. With a $10 million short-term bond issue secured by the cities, TMPA’s future seemed assured. It intensified its lignite leasing and began site studies for its first lignite plant, in northern Grimes County. TMPA’s planners didn’t reckon 6 AUGUST 11, 1978 with the possibility of public reaction there. In fact, said one TMPA official, “We weren’t even thinking about Grimes County.” It must have seemed like a most unlikely place for protest. It’s a rural county where much of the ranching is marginal. Long dominated by a oneparty system, Grimes County has little history of social activism or even much political involvement on the part of most citizens. The county lacked a strong legislative base because its senator, Bill Moore of Bryan, was known to favor his home town’s interests, and the county’s House member in 1975 was Latham Boone. from Navasota, who had been on “TMPA didn’t have enough trucks to haul enough money to make me want to sell my land.” Jake Howard the House committee that unanimously approved the bill creating TMPA. With no requirements for public hearings on its plant site, TMPA went about its business, keeping a low profile for about a year. Its land acquisition agents were under pressure to work quickly because lignite had become big business in Texas and there was competition from private speculators. TMPA’s schedule called for the first plant to be operating in five yearsunusually little lead time for a lignite leasing and construction program. To most Grimes County ranchers approached by TMPA land men, the agency was just one of many organizations getting into the lignite business. Most were glad to supplement declining ranch incomes, and few had any familiarity with lignite. They didn’t get a clear idea of the implications of the TMPA project until July 1976, when TMPA took a busload of local businessmen, landowners and officials to Texas Utilities’ power plant in FairfieldBig Brown, the showplace of Texas lignite. “That was the first time most of us realized what TMPA really was,” says Grimes County Judge Ben Swank. “The school superintendent, businessmen and other officials were all there, telling us about how much the Fairfield plant had meant to their county in terms of money and tax revenues. We were led to believe it was the greatest thing that could happen to us. “Then our school superintendent or the county attorney asked what taxes TMPA would pay. At first all they would say was: ‘We’re a political subdivision of the state.’ Then finally they said outright that they were tax-exempt. That was a shock! Why did they bring out the businessmen and other officials to talk about tax benefits if they hadn’t wanted to mislead us?” Although TMPA officials insist they were candid about the organization, the Fairfield trip left a bad impression in Grimes County. Stories began to circulate about ranchers’ property being damaged by people core-drilling for TMPA after being refused access to the land. Ranchers near the plant said land men told them they’d better sell or lease because TMPA could take their land anyway. It was hard to get a straight answer on how much land was really needed for the plant, and land men were implying that TMPA could condemn for lignite as well. It was John Freeman, a quiet, cautious school superintendent with a sharp eye for finances, who first tried to arouse public opinion. “I didn’t like to be a stumbling block, but we couldn’t afford to lose the tax money,” Freeman says. At the same time, ranchers who were angered by TMPA’s highhanded tactics approached Latham Boone, the former legislator, for help. “I realized I hadn’t done my homework in Austin,” recalls Boone. In the winter of 1976, he helped form the taxpayers association, composed mostly of local landowners. Boone understood the implications of the 1975 legislation but was reluctant to take radical action, and many people feared the expense and uncertainties of a court fight and were looking for other alternatives. So Boone tried compromise by drafting a bill to require TMPA to pay the county 2 percent of its gross receipts in lieu of taxes. He let it be known that the percentage could be reduced. His successor, Bill Keese, a freshman legislator from neighboring Burleson County, supported the bill and introduced it in the House in early February 1977. It was mid-May before it came up for a committee hearing, and by then the oppositionTMPA staff and lawyers, Lower Colorado River Authority management, and officials from other citieshad matters well in hand. The bill was tabled with minimal discussion, and Grimes County residents in attendance felt humiliated and angry.
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