Thursday, April 04, 2013
Property owners in Carroll County are receiving notifications from Southwest Electric Power Company (SWEPCO) about their land being used for a new $116.7 million, 345 kilovolt transmission line that would run from the Shipe Road Station in Centerton 48 miles to a new substation near the Kings River northwest of Berryville.
Property owners are concerned about the large amount of land that would be cleared, impacts to wildlife, possible groundwater pollution if herbicides are used to keep the power lines clear, visual pollution and decreased property values. More than 800 acres of land would be impacted.
“The proposed line goes right through the back of our property on Wolf Ridge, and it will sorely affect our beautiful forested view of the White River and Beaver town to the north,” said Dr. Jim Helwig, a retired geologist. “For us and our neighbors on the ridge on CR 206, this lovely view is a major reason everyone bought here – for us, now 15 years ago.
“I do not even want to think about herbicide spraying.”
Pat Costner, a retired Greenpeace senior scientist, said she is horrified at the thought of a 345 kilovolt transmission line running diagonally across the middle of her 135 acres.
“This means a swath of ground 150 to 200 feet wide will be cleared of trees and a series of towers 100 to 180 feet tall will be erected,” Costner said. “My land has many lovely karst features –caves, springs, creeks – and it is home to many creatures ranging from bats, bears and coyotes to salamanders, snakes and crawdads. In my more than forty years here, I have gone to considerable effort to ensure that my land has remained undisturbed, except for my house site, and free of herbicides in its entirety. All of this is put at risk by SWEPCO’s current plan and, to add insult to injury, I can expect the value of my property to drop by as much as fifty percent.”
Ironically for the Helwigs and many others, their power is supplied by Carroll Electric Cooperative – not SWEPCO. Helwig said one thing he will be looking into is the relationship of the two companies and their two grids.
“Like all citizens, I am an electricity user, and I am aware of the need to continually improve the power grid,” Helwig said. “And we do live in the growing economy of Northwest Arkansas. How we balance the attraction of a growing economy and the attractive nature of the Natural State is on the table. It makes me dream of a future where home-made distributed electricity and conservation measures eliminate the need for obtrusive utility mega-corridors with their forest clear cuts.”
Chris Fischer, an arborist in Eureka Springs, is concerned about the portions of the route that would go through land that isn’t already disturbed.
“The ‘new, improved reliability’ route coming in from Gateway just north of the highway 187/23 junction reads as a new line, so it will have a somewhat brutal impact as it will occur on land that has never been cleared as an existing utility corridor being upgraded or widened,” Fischer said.
One of the alternatives, a blue line on the map, apparently runs through the southern tip of Leatherwood Lake City Park, just north of the Eureka Springs city limits, and then north of the Passion Play. Fisher said if the preferred northern route is challenged and this route were to be chosen, that would raise concerns for the deforestation involved, as well.
This project has been in the works since 2007 when the Southwest Power Pool, the regional transmission organization serving a large part of nine states including Arkansas and Missouri, identified a need for strengthening the transmission system in the north Arkansas and southern Missouri parts of the grid. Peter Main, spokesman for SWEPCO, said the Southwest Power Pool directed SWEPCO to build facilities including a proposed transmission line and the new Kings River Station of Berryville.
“Our study will be presented to the Arkansas Public Service Commission (PSC), and they will look at all the various factors considered in identifying those routes,” Main said. “Then the commission will determine if that is the appropriate route or another route. The transmission studies anticipate overloads on the transmission system in 2016 and beyond. And so this is putting facilities in place to strengthen the system so that it is able to handle the load that is anticipated in 2016, in particular the Carroll County portion.”
Asked if more power was needed for the Tyson chicken processing plant in Berryville, Main said the new line is not needed for any one particular industry, but for overall growth in north Arkansas and into Missouri.
“Transmission planners look at the big picture,” Main said. “They look at the overall load that has to be served across localized areas, as well as the broader region, and they look at the way these areas are interconnected to insure reliability. The lines are being built now for a completion date mid 2016. It is very much with an eye to the big picture of the reliability of the entire region. Large transmission lines are the backbone of entire transmission grid.”
While controversial, some people believe high voltage power lines produce electromagnetic pollution that can be harmful to people and wildlife. One woman said she couldn’t live near high voltage power lines because they interfere with her heart pacemaker.
Main said it is their general practice is to minimize the impact on existing homes, follow the natural terrain where possible, and minimize to the extent practical the number of landowners’ properties that are traversed. “We try to avoid private dwellings and commercial buildings, and to minimize impacts on current and potential future usage land,” Main said. “We look at existing easement corridors, and use those when possible. So there are a lot of factors that go into it.”
In a letter to landowners, SWEPCO said its preferred route is Route 33, which is comprised of segments BZ-C-I-N-S-Y-Z-J-0-AF-AL-AP-AU-BC. “If your land is not located on any of those segments, then the route of the transmission line proposed by SWEPCO does not traverse you,” he said. “However, at the hearing scheduled in this matter the commission has the authority to modify the proposed route or to decide to utilize one of the five other routes. Thus, you are being notified in order that you may monitor these proceedings and participate as you deem appropriate.”
Landowners have 30 days from April 2 to file an objection with the Arkansas PSC to the proposed line. A copy of the environmental impact study is at the Eureka Springs Carnegie Library. Maps can be accessed at www.swepco.com/shipekings.
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