Thursday, April 25, 2013
Opponents of a proposed 48-mile-long, 150 ft. wide, 345 kilovolt (kV) power transmission line proposed by Southwest Electric Power Company (SWEPCO), that would run through the heart of Carroll County, drew 150 people to the Auditorium April 18 for the second public meeting of a new group called Save the Ozarks.
SWEPCO’s proposal to take private property for a huge new power transmission corridor has stirred up a hornet’s nest of opposition from residents concerned about destruction of the environment, blighting of scenic views, health impacts from herbicide spraying and electromagnetic fields, and reduced property values. Citizens along six potential paths for the power line given only a month from April 2 to respond are banding together to campaign against the power line.
SWEPCO said the proposed power line and Kings River Station would provide increased reliability and overload relief in eastern Benton County and Carroll County. SWEPCO said its proposed lines avoid going over homes and impacts to scenic and environmental resources.
The meeting commenced with Ilene Powell encouraging people to not only contact the Arkansas Public Service Commission to put in comments against the power line, but also contact local, state and federal elected officials.
“Send in emails telling people this project would create an economic domino effect that would harm the entire community,” Powell said. “We need to take action and demand action. Most important are handwritten letters. We need a big political and environmental outreach campaign.”
Pat Costner, a retired senior scientist with Greenpeace with a background in physical and organic chemistry, said her 135 acres are directly in the path of four of the proposed routes.
She said citizens opposed to the power line “have accomplished an amazing amount in two weeks. We have done our best to get a communication network up and running. We have contact lists, a Facebook page and a website where people can find information and share what they are doing, what others are doing and what still needs to be done.
“We are scrambling to find out everything we can and get the best strategic advice we need,” Costner said. “We have retained an attorney with extensive experience with APSC. He said our combined petition to intervene and petition for an extension will be filed. Pick up affidavits and have them signed and notarized if you want to be covered.”
Affidavits can be notarized and mailed into the P.O. Box 142, Eureka Springs AR 72632.
Dr. Luis “Doc” Contreras spoke about health hazards of electromagnetic fields, first asking how many people in the audience know someone who has a pacemaker. Most people raised their hands. Contreras said pacemakers can be disrupted around high voltage transmission lines, which he also said can cause childhood leukemia.
“This is really scary stuff,” Contreras said. “These are big-ass transmission lines, about the largest, most powerful lines they have. The high voltage creates strong magnetic fields and electrical interference. It is not safe for humans to be close to transmission lines. There is also constant noise.”
A National Research Council panel that analyzed 17 years of studies concluded in 1996 that electromagnetic radiation from power lines does not cause cancer, reproductive disease or behavioral health problems.
“The current body of evidence does not show that exposure to these fields presents a human-health hazard,” Charles F. Stevens, chairman of the NRC panel said.
The panel said that while there is an increased risk of childhood leukemia in children living near high-voltage lines, there is no link between the electric radiation and the disease.
Jeff Danos, who designed the Save the Ozarks webpage, warned people that SWEPCO is planning site visits soon. He said in other areas of the country, property owners have been threatened if they don’t sign papers allowing a power company survey. He said people who signed then found out that the “survey” included their property being bulldozed. “Do not sign anything without talking to an attorney first,” Danos said.
Another organizer, Roger Shepperd, said the opposition is going to focus on shortcomings in SWEPCO’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
“If you look at the EIS, you realize what a shoddy piece of work it is,” Shepperd said. “It is very one sided. It doesn’t talk about the decline in property values. There is no mention of the health hazards of high voltage transmission lines. It is not a fair document and that is why we are intervening.”
Mark Armstrong had concerns about the amount of herbicides that would be sprayed to maintain the power line right-of-way.
“This is going into the groundwater,” Armstrong said. “We don’t know the long-term effects of that. What does it do to the wildlife? They have no voice. The effects just keep escalating. I know a couple of people looking for properties this week and when they heard about high voltage power lines, they turned around and said they would look elsewhere. There will be a massive effect from this. Businesses are worried about this.”
Organizers said in addition to speaking to public officials and the APSC, the group also needs to raise a significant amount of money to pay legal fees. Donations to Save the Ozarks can be made at the First Community Bank in Eureka Springs or mailed to P.O. Box 142, Eureka Springs AR 72632.
One piece of cheering news to protesters is that Community and Environmental Defense Services (www.ceds.org), headed by Richard Klein, has agreed to provide support. Costner said that CEDS has a 90 percent win rate on issues they take on.
“All of us together are doing the best we can do to get this pulled together so we do not have this shoved down our throats,” Costner said.
Glenn Crenshaw, a local Realtor, spoke about the negative impact to property values. He said one of the primary reasons people move to the area is the beautiful scenery. “Two things many people want when looking for real estate are mountain views and waterfront property,” Crenshaw said. “Having a high voltage line running across the top of mountains isn’t going to benefit anyone. I have had clients I’m taking to look at a house, and when they see a high voltage transmission line, they say, ‘Stop, I don’t even want to look at the property.’ It is a constant issue. Even if property is just adjoining a power line, there will be a drop in value. The salability is going to diminish.”
During public comments, artist Susan Morrison said she was angry that local officials, including County Judge Sam Barr and Mayor Morris Pate, knew about the project for months without saying anything.
“Why did the people who represent us know about it months ago and not tell us?” Morrison asked. “And we want to know why the piece of property in Berryville went for so much. They are not playing by the rules.”
Morrison was referring to SWEPCO paying $600,000 for 38.6 acres of pastureland on Hwy. 143 for a proposed Kings River Station at the end of the transmission line. A real estate expert said pastureland in the county normally sells for from $2,500 to $4,000 per acre. SWEPCO paid $15,544 per acre.
Kaye Glover, who lives on Passion Play Rd., said she lost “the bulk of her life” due to exposure to herbicides 20 years ago in an area of Louisiana known for high toxic releases. She came to Eureka very frail and has been healing in the clean environment.
“I searched for a healthy place to live,” Glover said. “This is absolutely the best groundwater on the continent. I needed a place to walk and talk and not be ill all the time.”
Glover said she talked to Carroll Electric Cooperative Corp. (CECC) about not spraying herbicides near her, and now she faces a similar threat from SWPECO. She said she isn’t the only one at risk, and that other people, including children with neurological problems, can be adversely impacted by herbicides.
Also speaking in opposition was a representative from the Great Passion Play, although GPP Executive Director Randall Christy did say they had not yet been approached by SWEPCO. “I understand that one optional route might cross the northern part of the Passion Play property,” Christy told ES Independent photographer David Dempsey. “We have not taken an official stand on this.”
Steven Campbell, a veteran, said power companies usually mix several types of herbicides together resulting in “a chemical cocktail that is carcinogenic and mutagenic. When they mix this stuff together, it is not approved. When they rinse cans and it goes into our ground, it ends up in our drinking water.”
Dave Spencer, who has been active opposing herbicide spraying by CECC, affirmed that herbicides are registered, but not approved by the EPA.
The area’s karst geography has eroded limestone formations that create sinkholes, springs and caves, making it particularly vulnerable to water pollution, according to geologist Dr. James Helwig. “If you have a letter from SWEPCO and you have springs or a sinkhole, we need to know about this,” Helwig said. “File information about your property on the Save the Ozarks Facebook page.”
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