Erath County Commissioners voted Monday not to allow well owners access to the right of way on County Road 392 for a well transmission line.
Pat Wilson first brought the matter to the court’s attention a few months ago after he ran into some trouble. Although the natural gas and oil well looked promising, he had difficulty finding a way to get the gas from the well to the market.
The original plan was to run a line from the well to the line that supplies the city but Wilson said they ran into additional costs when the state required a station to add odor to the gas.
Neighboring property owners were also hesitant to have the line buried on their property, so the well owners approached the county about running a line in the county’s right of way along CR 392.
County Judge Tab Thompson said County Attorney Lisa Pence looked into the matter and checked policies in surrounding counties; however, a consensus could not be found. He said counties to the west tend to allow lines in the right of ways whereas eastern counties tended to keep them out.
Thompson also noted that there are transmission lines in the northern part of the county, but those have caused issues in the past.
Precinct 4 Commissioner Randy Lowe said the lines cause problems during road maintenance because they are not buried deep enough.
“On three occasions I’ve hit lines and had one explode,” Lowe said.
He said he is concerned that allowing more buried lines would lead to more problems.
“If we do move forward with it, I want something etched in stone,” Lowe said.
Tony Heady, who owns the land the natural rig is on, said they are willing to take extra safety precautions such as burying the 25-pound line three feet deep and allowing a third party to inspect the work.
Wilson said they would also carry a $2 million insurance policy - just in case.
“That transmission line is not going to be close to anybody’s house,” Wilson said. “This is not a high pressure line.”
Heady also told the court that he received a letter from the Texas Railroad Commission last week advising him that he had 30 days to make the well productive or it would be plugged. He urged the court to move forward with a vote.
The well is located in Precinct 2, overseen by Commissioner Lynn Tidwell.
“I am against it,” Tidwell said.
Commissioner Jim Pack agreed and the motion failed with a vote of three against and none for. Commissioner Jim Brown was absent.
After the meeting, Heady was glad to at least receive some closure in the ordeal.
“We’re glad that we did get a vote,” Heady said. “It didn’t go the way we wanted it and it’s a shame that our commissioners court is denying us this.”
Heady said he had hoped the county would allow them to draft safety criteria to help make the line possible because he saw it as a win-win situation.
“Granted, I’m going to benefit, but so is everyone else in Erath County,” Heady said.
He pointed out that a lot of homes in the county use natural gas. He said the county even had a chance to profit through tax revenue and royalties.
Thompson confirmed that an offer was made to the county to share in the royalties, but he felt that private citizens should be the ones to profit versus tapping into a public right of way.
“It’s good that the monetary aspects did not overshadow health and safety aspects,” Thompson said.
He said the commissioners put a lot of time and thought into the matter, but ultimately, based on Monday’s vote, commissioners just didn’t feel as though it was in the best interest of the public to allow access to the right of way.
But the matter might not yet be resolved.
“Our option is to sue the county and to get it heard in court,” Heady said. “And that makes me sad because I don’t want to be a part of suing Erath County.”
Thompson said he is aware that litigation is a possibility.
“If they feel that is an option they need to take, then our system is set up for that,” Thompson said.
In other business, County Treasurer Donna Kelly reported that although interest rates are low, .42 percent, the county’s money was safe.
Commissioners also gave the OK to clear brush from a lot on CR 275 and FM 847 to make room for the newest volunteer fire department.
County Tax Assessor/Collector Jennifer Carey presented a contract with Government Data Services (GDS) for credit card services in the tax office. Carey said they allow customers to use credit cards to pay for property taxes and would now like to include vehicle registration services. Customers would pay an additional 3.2 percent to GDS if they elect to pay by credit.