Bay City Blunder: Nuke love means never having to say â??Correction'

Greg Harman

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It can be a hard job running a small-town weekly. I know. I did it for three years.

Practicing good journalism there can be risky. Expose official corruption in a big city and you have the instant support of a dozen candidates hoping to replace the alleged embezzler/wife beater/criminal of the hour; expose it in a small town and you may have just lost 40 percent of your advertising revenue.

I never quite got the hang of the required community boosting, which partly explains why I'm not still making those weekly Rotary Club meetings.

So it is not without a degree of empathy this morning that I called Mike Reddell, publisher of the twice-weekly Bay City Tribune, to discuss an article he penned in yesterday's edition.

Several local folks forwarded it to me, alarmed from the opening paragraph, which asserts the City of San Antonio is about to pass a resolution in support of the expansion of the South Texas Project nuclear complex.

Reddell's article makes a string of questionable statements, but the main falsehood, repeated twice, is that the City is poised to pass a resolution affirming its continued participation in STP 3&4.

McDonald quoted Castro as saying San Antonio wanted in the project and did not want to hold up the proposed expansion's progress. â?¦

Castro told McDonald and Knapik that a City of San Antonio resolution affirming its continued participation in Units 3 & 4 would be brought "within the next two or three days." â?¦

San Antonio proposes a bond issue to pay for its eventual share of the project.

No such resolution is on the horizon for San Antonio, where the proposed expansion has fallen into deep disfavor after CPS Energy officials sought to cover up escalating cost estimates. The closest thing matching Reddell's statements would be an expected CPS Energy Board of Trustees vote on whether or not to continue in the construction of two new reactors with NRG Energy, at all. However, that vote was delayed yesterday.

If CPS votes to continue as a paying partner, a possibility now considered remote, it would require rate-hike increases on CPS customers that must be approved by the City Council.

I called the Tribune to ask if Reddell planned to run a correction.

Why would he do that? he asked. He quoted Judge McDonald and Mayor Knapik, both of whom said their version of Mayor Castro's comments was correct.

But had bothered to call Mayor Castro?

“I will, but I've got another meeting and I don't have to kowtow to the City of San Antonio. I'm sorry,” the unapologetic publisher fussed. “The thing about it is, I think people in San Antonio don't realize is if this project fails because of San Antonio, Matagorda County will suffer a huge blow. Does that matter in San Antonio? I'm sure it doesn't,” Reddell continued. “I'm sure y'all could care less. Except, that the people of Matagorda County, they have a risk from STP as it is and San Antonio gets 40 percent of that product.”

Yes, but what does that have with the published assertion that San Antonio is poised to pass a resolution in support of the nuke plant?

“That's what `Castro` told them,” Reddell said.

“No,” I interrupt. “That's what they told you he told them.”

Mayor Castro told the Current this morning that Reddell never contacted his office seeking comment and that no resolution in support of STP 3 & 4 is being considered, “either by the Board or the Council, as was reported. That is simply incorrect.”

While the Mayor said he hopes the dispute between CPS and NRG can be resolved and the project moved forward, but “I think it's clear that CPS will not likely participate in a way that it did envision before last fall.”

“We certainly don't want to holdup the expansion, but we do want to make sure our investment is protected,” Castro said. “CPS may retain a reduced stake in the project but not continue to invest in the project in the future.”

That ownership stake would only be equal to the roughly $350 million already spent in addition to the value of the existing land and water rights held by CPS, he said. “That's very different from the character of what's being suggested in this article. We're talking about a diluted stake based upon negotiation.”

And the notion that a bond issue could be brought to pay for continued involvement in the project?

“God only knows where that assessment came from,” Castro said.

I called both of Reddell's sources, McDonald and Knapik. McDonald, I was told, was in a meeting but would return my call either this afternoon or in the morning. There has been no call back from Knapik.

Meanwhile, Reddell accused me of acting more like a City official than a journalist.

“Are you with the City of San Antonio or are you with an independent newspaper?” he asked. “Am I'm talking to the Current or am I talking to the City of San Antonio? Because you sure sound like a City official. You don't sound like a journalist to me.”

It was an insult our local establishment will surely get a kick out of, but it was off topic.

“Is it possible you got it wrong?” I pushed.

“I quoted the mayor and the county judge and I didn't get it wrong from them,” he says.

He's right. He got it wrong by not calling the subject of his story â?? Castro â?? who he quoted thirdhand at least four times.

If the Reddell submits to running a correction, you'll have to read about it somewhere else. I asked if he would email me the text of it when it ran, to which he responded: “You'll be the last person I email,” before hanging up the phone.


UPDATE Correction runs Monday, February 15: "Due to a misunderstanding from interviews ... "