An agreement to allow AEP continued access to operate and maintain power lines inside the Natalia City limits in exchange for franchise fees was postponed after Councilman Darin Frazier expressed concerns during the Regular meeting held last Monday, February 24.
City Administrator Lisa Hernandez said the City initially signed a contract with AEP in 1988 that is set to expire this November, and that the City usually receives anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000 a month in franchise fees, depending on customer usage.
Rita Parrish, an External Affairs manager out of AEP’s Uvalde office, was at the meeting to request that Council sign another contract with AEP, this one through 2050.
According to Parrish, 30-year contracts are the industry standard.
“We’re asking that you approve the franchise agreement to give us authority to go out and use the alleyways, install the lines, and maintain them, to serve the City residents,” Parrish said.
Frazier said he was concerned that the contract would grant AEP the right to cut down palm trees that are in the way of power lines or poles, something that Hernandez confirmed.
“In section three of the contract, which has not changed, it does grant permission for AEP to trim, cut, or remove any kind of trees or growth that is in interference of the lines,” Hernandez said.
Parrish said that AEP has an easement and that the stipulation is for liability purposes, and Hernandez pointed out that the palm trees in town have caught fire.
Frazier agreed that the trees’ location near the power lines was a problem for both the City and AEP.
“The bottom line is, this is what Natalia was founded on,” Frazier said. “If you took the palm trees away, you just took Natalia’s history of everything away.”
Frazier added that he thought the City should negotiate a way to retain some authority on what gets cut down, and that the power lines could be moved.
“I’ve done it on my personal property, in an easement,” Frazier said. “It’s not uncommon. Cities do it all the time.”
Parrish agreed that lines could be rerouted, but that it would be at the City’s cost, and added that when and if trees needed to be trimmed, AEP’s forester would meet with the City and residents to let them know.
Frazier further expressed a desire to have the full Council discuss the matter before making a decision, and Parrish offered to return to a future meeting with a representative from AEP’s forestry division.
A motion by Councilman Sam Bluemel and Frazier to postpone the issue until the next Regular meeting on Monday, March 16 passed 3-0 with Councilwoman Selica Vera’s vote.
Councilmen Mike Fernandez and Sam Smith were absent.
By Marly Davis