In Frisco, It's Pesky Residents Versus Brazos in a Fight Over High-Voltage Power Lines

Frisco residents worried about a power company's plan to install high-voltage power lines above ground next to their homes have been frustrated by the company's handling of their complaints in recent weeks, but this morning they can celebrate a momentary victory: Their city council last night passed a resolution opposing the current plan.

Things ramped up last week, when Brazos Electric chose to have a little informal chat with locals about the company's proposal to install a 138,000-volt transmission line in Frisco, on any of four potential locations. But the public didn't exactly get a ton of time to weigh in on the plan.

"They informed us that our only opportunity as a public to speak with them was this past Tuesday before [Brazos Electric] moved foward with their plan," Kendall Meade, the Pearson Farms HOA president, tells Unfair Park. ("Moving forward" for the company means submitting the proposals to the the Public Utilities Commission for approval.)

One of the things that frustrated Meade was that the public's only opportunity to "speak" wasn't really a public meeting. Instead, residents who wanted answers had to wait in a long line to individually ask questions of the Brazos consultants.

"The specific question asked by most people was if the [power] lines could be buried ... they told us that they could, but it was cost-prohibitive, and they would not even do a study" to figure out what the costs would be, Meade says.

The Dallas Morning News had a peppier take on what transpired. The paper decribed the meeting as having "a come-and-go format, with maps and charts on display and representatives from Brazos available to answer questions one to one."

But Frisco residents ruined the occasion by showing up and attempting to ask those questions: "The huge crowd overwhelmed staff members spread around the Frisco Heritage Center's historic depot."

But to answer the original, more important question: Why can't power lines just be buried?

That's an issue that other municipalities and electric companies have been debating for years. A 2010 study by a consulting firm found that Washington, D.C., could prevent more than 1,000 outages a year by burying its lines, but that it would cost companies an extra $5.8 billion. And many local officials are arguing that underground lines are an investment worth making. After Superstorm Sandy knocked out the power for eight million New Yorkers last year, New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn pressed Con Edison to put more of its lines underground. (While Manhattan buries its lines, other part of New York City don't. )

State Representative Pat Fallon, a former Frisco City Council member, told WFAA that Frisco has an ordinance requiring lines to be buried but that "unfortunately, that ordinance can be ignored by state laws."

Last night, with the chamber packed with residents, the council unanimously passed a resolution opposing the proposed routes and agreed to hire a law firm to study the issue, because when in doubt, fire up the Lawyer Meter. The News reported that other routes could be complicated by land-ownership issues or a new batch of worried residents.

"We support an alternative route," Frisco Mayor Maher Maso said, according to the paper, "but somebody will be impacted somewhere."

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