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DesertView Homes respond to Esmeralda Park residents concerns

Updated: Monday, July 22 2013, 03:30 PM MDT

By: Bill Melugin
CANUTILLO, Texas -- DesertView Homes, the developing company in charge of building the homes near Esmeralda Park in the Upper Valley, say they had no idea El Paso Electric planned to replace a portion of the park with high voltage power lines.

As KFOX14 previously reported, the electric company began tearing up the park off Artcraft Road to make room for high voltage power lines, but residents said they were never notified. They said they were worried how the project would affect their health, their property values and wildlife in the area. Residents previously showed KFOX14 the carcasses of several burrowing owls that had died in the area as a result of the construction.

At a meeting the residents held earlier this month, several homeowners expressed frustration and concern that DesertView Homes never informed them of El Paso Electric's plans.

KFOX14 spoke with Randy O'Leary, the owner of DesertView Homes. O'Leary said the company had no idea the power lines would be built, and that they are the ones who built Esmeralda Park and donated it to the city of El Paso. 

"I appreciate the opportunity to clarify a couple of items with regards to the electrical transmission lines being installed next to the Artcraft roadway. In 2004, we initiated the development of a small community adjacent to Artcraft," O'Leary said. "The city has a very thorough process of reviewing and approving the plans for developments which includes addressing all utility needs through utility easements. For this community, the only utility easements requested by any of the utility companies were those feeding directly into the community. The electric company, nor any other utility company, ever informed us they were going to do anything other than run standard utilities for Esmeralda Park. 

"Over the past couple of weeks, we have been able to acquire a little information regarding the project, including how the electric company received the easements through the park by the city of El Paso. I can tell you it is very discouraging when we donate a park to the city, which cost us upwards of $250,000 to construct, for the city to turn around and for $20,000, provide the electric company rights to a large portion of the park," he said.

"I, too, am saddened and feel for the community as we see a great deal of this park being demolished," O'Leary said.

Residents near Esmeralda Park spoke with KFOX14 on Sunday. 

"The developer is out of it, it wasn't their fault, they didn't know what happened after they allocated this property for a park," said Tom Matthews. "There have been so many laws that have been violated in this process, it's just mind boggling."

"What is legal is not always right," said Jon Williams, another resident. "Even if [El Paso Electric's] lawyers can say it was legal, what they have done here is wrong, it is unethical."

Residents say the blame now falls squarely on the shoulders of El Paso Electric and their city representative, Ann Morgan Lily, for allowing the project to happen.

"We are calling on Mayor Leeser to stop it now, to stop it in its tracks. If that means Ann Morgan Lily is recalled or has to resign today, so be it," Williams said. 

Williams released a statement to KFOX14 on behalf of the residents living near Esmeralda Park.

"As we have researched the thousands of pages of documents, regulations, and laws pertaining to the Santa Teresea to Montoya High Voltage Transmission line which is threatening our park and our property values, we believe we have found more than 10 laws, environmental regulations which have been broken by El Paso Electric Company and the El Paso City government since 2002, and we do have legal representation. However, even if not one law was broken and not one regulation was bent, the morality and the ethics of these institutions is called into question. Sometimes, it is legal to treat people badly. As any Ethics 101 professor will tell you on day one, 'Legal isn't always right,'" the statement said.

"Mayor Leeser ran on a platform of greater accountability, visibility and ethics in city government. We call on him to make that happen and for him to hire an independent and outside prosecutor to investigate the violations which we have found," Williams wrote. (?) 

"We are calling for our Texas elected representatives outside of El Paso, to include Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, Attorney General Greg Abbott and the Texas Board of Railroad Commissioners to open independent investigations into their respective jurisdictions in this case," the statement said.

Another issue residents have brought up is the lack of a recent environmental impact statement for El Paso Electric. They said one was completed back when the project was approved in 2003, but one has not been completed since then, and there are now around 1,000 new homes in the area. The residents feel that warrants the need for a new statement, and Department of Energy Regulations may support that. 

According to the agency's regulations: 
1. "Shall prepare supplements to either draft or final environmental impact statements if:
(i) The agency makes substantial changes in the proposed action that are relevant to environmental concerns; or
(ii) There are significant new circumstances or information relevant to environmental concerns and bearing on the proposed action or its impacts.

El Paso Electric has said they've done everything by the book. The utility company said they did inform residents of the project, that they will relocate anything that's damaged during the project, and that they will not be destroying the entire park.

A representative from the company told KFOX14 despite the public outrage, they have no plans to stop the project as of right now. 

City representative Ann Morgan Lily told KFOX14 the project was not rubber stamped by city council, and that they did follow the law by mailing out 300 letters to residents in the area of the proposed power lines.

The residents say they have hired an attorney, have contacted the Environmental Protection Agency, and are considering taking legal action against El Paso Electric.

DesertView Homes respond to Esmeralda Park residents concerns

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