Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine   


From the Pen of Robert L. Cook

The following is just a story about Texas and Texans. It probably never really happened …

The old cowboy had been waiting a long time to speak at the public hearing on the proposed wind farm along the south Texas coast. It had been a long evening. Many people wanted to be heard. Last to sign up because he had to comb and feed his horses at the end of the day, he was last to speak. When it finally came his turn to be heard, “Flaco,” as he was known, rose and walked slowly to the microphone. Clearly, some old injury from the days when he cowboyed for The Ranch caused him pain now and it took a while to get started. Flaco had listened closely to the engineers, economists and technical experts who explained in great detail the economic virtues, tax incentives and environmental benefits of producing electricity using some 400 giant wind turbines, which were to tower above the wind-swept prairie and oak mottes. He had heard the environmentalists talk about the potential hazard of those fan-tips rotating at 150 miles per hour to the thousands of songbirds, waterfowl, hawks and shorebirds. The proponents of the massive project had retorted that the wind farm would produce electricity cheaper and cleaner than the current methods including the coal-fired power plants common throughout Texas. The opposition countered that the requested tax abatement would be a great loss to the county’s revenue base. The emotions were high.

Apparently these “educated” folks didn’t agree on almost anything, and Flaco didn’t understand much of this talk about incentives and abatements. He did understand the birds and their migration routes through this area of the state. He had seen thousands of colorful little birds “fall out” in the oak mottes nearest the bay many times. On the other hand, he appreciated the value and convenience of electricity; after all, for the first 35 years of his life his modest home was heated with mesquite and lit with coal oil. He remembered that the biologist had said that there was no data, no research from a similar area, and that really nobody knew exactly what the impact on the wildlife would be.

Standing at the microphone, his sweat-stained hat crumpled in both hands and leather gloves stuck in his back pocket, Flaco spoke softly and yet clearly: “I have known the owners of the ranch where these grande windmills are to be built, and they are friends of mine. I have worked with them many times through the years. Our families are related; we are friends. I know that they do not wish to hurt the birds or the other wildlife, or their neighbors and friends. I know that it is their property and that they have a right to do what they want to do on their property as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone or cause great harm to the wildlife or the land.

“On the other hand, I was born on the ranch next door; Papa and Mama were born there before me, and his Papa before him. I have lived and worked there all my life. The ranch owners are my friends, my family. I know that they have spoken in opposition to these wind towers next door for various reasons, some of which I do not understand. But I know them, they are honest, and I trust them.”

The crowded room was silent. They waited, knowing that this man spoke from the heart, knowing that he spoke the truth — an unprejudiced, unbiased truth. They knew he had something to say and they wanted to hear. “They may or may not harm our birds; that is to be seen. I think that they may generate clean electricity. But the truth is, we have no feeling for them. They are not pretty to our eyes and to our hearts like our old windmills, which have pumped water for our cattle and wildlife, and for the people who have worked this land for many years. The truth is … I just don’t want to have to look at them on our prairie.”

With that Flaco bowed slightly, nodded to the crowd, and walked slowly out the door. For a moment, the crowd sat in silence. Not another word was spoken. As they walked out of the room, several of the “old hands” were seen nodding their heads and smiling slightly.

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