Silverlake transmission towers spark House bill

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It has been nearly a year since the electrical transmission towers rose the in the Silverlake subdivision in Pearland. But, the controversy the towers sparked has led to the creation of state House Bill 2470, which Rep. Ed Thompson, R-Pearland, sponsors. As of May 7, the bill is left pending in the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee.

“After hearing from a number of concerned constituents, I filed HB 2470 to provide property owners with recourse when an easement modification detrimentally affects their property value,” Thompson said.

HB 2470 addresses the rights of the property owners if their property values decrease due to the use of an easement.

Utility companies have the right-of-way to easements, which can be used for electric and telephone lines. Because of this, they do not need the approval of nearby residents to use the easements, a CenterPoint Energy representative said.

When CenterPoint raised electrical towers in Silverlake last year, residents claim they were not given fair notice, and they are now left to deal with decreased property values. Because part of the Silverlake subdivision is part of CenterPoint’s easement, citizens do not have a defense against this happening, Zebak said.

“The way the bill is written, it is not intended to prevent utilities from doing projects like this, but it is meant to incentivize them to communicate to the neighborhood,” Silverlake resident Dean Zebak said.

One of the electrical towers went up next to Zebak’s driveway, causing his interest in the issue.

“One of the towers went up right next to our house. We were just really surprised when the utility company decided to place that tower there,” Zebak said. “For a lot of people, your home is your biggest asset.”

To Zebak, the towers are an eyesore and could potentially be a danger to the community. Teenagers could climb on the towers and potentially get injured, or the towers could be damaged in a storm, Zebak said.

While he knows it is probably too late to address the towers in Silverlake, he hopes the bill sets a precedent.

“Even if it does not help us out, it would help other homeowners in the future across the state,” Zebak said.

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  1. I live in the Silverlake area and have a new Centerpoint transmission tower in the utility easement next to my home. I do not agree with Rep. Thompson’s HB2470. The Community Impact article did not mention that HB2470 would allow a homeowner to sue Centerpoint for the supposed lost value of their home. If that become law, all Centerpoint rate payers would have to foot the bill for the increased costs to Centerpoint, the many having to pay for the supposed losses of the few.

    I was aware that my home was next to a utility easement when I purchased it. If one lives next to a utility easement, one can reasonably expect that the utilities will upgrade their facilities, whether it is electrical power lines or a natural gas pipeline. It is unreasonable to believe that nothing will ever change.

    A home is an investment, just like a stock or bond.. Like any investment, the value can increase or decrease. The “housing bubble” of several years ago demonstrated that. My former home in Evanston, IL is a good example. I sold the home in 1999 for $309,000; that owner sold it some five years later for over $600,000! The newest owner ended up selling the home a few years ago at a loss of over $100,000. The value of a home can appreciate over time, as the Silverlake area homes have, but there is no guarantee that home values can only go up.

    My family and my son’s family lived in Metairie, LA when Hurricane Katrina struck. We evacuated a day before the hurricane came ashore. My son worked at the Valero refinery in the area and returned just eight days later. He has photos showing street after street and row after row of wooden utility poles blown down by the force of the winds and the volume of rain softening the soil. It took several months to rebuild the electrical grid.

    The new Centerpoint transmission towers replaced the wooden poles that had been in the utility easement. If one looks around the easement today and the area in general, you can see several of the wooden poles are tilted, due in part to the several feet of rain from Hurricane Harvey. The new transmission towers are anchored in several feet of concrete and their open structure will resist any future hurricane force winds, contrary to the opinion in the article from Mr. Zebak. As a “Katrina refugee”, I see the new utility towers as a proactive approach by Centerpoint to prevent storms from toppling electrical lines while the current wooden poles remain vulnerable. We do live, after all, in a hurricane and tropical storm prone area.

    Certerpoint has a state mandated requirement to upgrade their facilities annually. The growth that Pearland has experienced is being mirrored by communities to our south, such as Alvin and Manvel. The utility easements were established years ago to facilitate that growth by allowing Centerpoint the means and ability to supply the electricity needed for these areas to grow. The fact that the easements are being used for their intended purpose should be no surprise to anyone.

    As I stated above, I do not agree that a homeowner should have the ability to sue Centerpoint because of the apparent loss of value to their home when Centerpoint is fulfilling its state mandated function and using a long established easement to perform that function. Allowing a homeowner to sue and collect damages would simply add to Centerpoint’s costs which would be passed along to other homeowners. How a homeowner would compute their loss if the home has been increasing in value year after year would be difficult to determine.

    There was another bill submitted by Senator Larry Taylor that would require Centerpoint to hold hearings before they would be allowed to improve their capabilities in an easement. That bill would simply delay the process but not achieve any practical end.

    Should Centerpoint and gas pipeline companies do a better job of informing the communities they serve when they will be expanding their transmission facilities? Yes, that would help. Should they be prevented from expanding their facilities or be sued to increase their operating costs? No.

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Haley Morrison
Haley Morrison came to Community Impact Newspaper in 2017 after graduating from Baylor University. In her tenure as a reporter, she has primarily written about education, health care and transportation.
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