Thursday, May 02, 2013
Could the butterfly effect come into play with the plans by the Southwest Electric Power Company (SWEPCO) to slash a 48-mile, 150 foot-wide corridor through the Ozarks for a new transmission line? The butterfly effect is the phenomenon where a minor change can result in a drastically different outcome in an area halfway across the world.
Mountain Bird Coffee and Tea Company is a small business near Beaver on Table Rock Lake, located near one of the proposed paths of a 345 kiloVolt (kV) transmission line SWEPCO wants to build from eastern Benton County across Carroll County to north of Berryville. Mountain Bird Coffee is a small batch coffee roaster that purchases coffee beans directly from farms in Central and South America who are part of the Rainforest Alliance that supports, through certification of farmers who support the environment, the paying of higher wages, housing for workers and community involvement to include medical care and education assistance.
The coffee growers are committed to no herbicide and pesticide use, and use renewable, non-polluting power.
Owner Steve Gassaway explains that not just his business, but the livelihood of the farmers he buys from is threatened by the proposed transmission line.
“Coffee beans are a cellulose product that is very susceptible to the outside environment,” Gassaway said. “If it absorbs smells, it affects the taste. If there is a broadcast of herbicides out here, my coffee beans could be influenced. If SWEPCO uses chemicals, it will destroy my business. We are all about having a sustainable product that is not adulterated. Our customers demand it. Personally and financially, I can’t afford to move my business. It would totally destroy Mountain Bird Coffee Company.”
Being located so close to herbicide spraying, the possible tainting of his well water and the close proximity of a deforested swath could make Gassaway lose his Rainforest Alliance Certification.
“Our Rainforest Certified Coffees and operation have to be audited each year and the outside environment is instrumental to that certification,” he said. “A multitude of customers throughout the U.S. rely on Mountain Bird Coffee Company. And it has devastating consequences for farmers we work with in Central and South America. We know each farmer personally. We know their children. Could these farmers find another customer for their coffee if Mountain Bird Coffee has to close because of proximity to the SWEPCO power line? Yes, but it would take time. And often small coffee growers live on low incomes, so an upset in sales could have major consequences.”
The Rainforest Alliance works to support small, sustainable coffee growers in an effort to prevent deforestation of the rainforest that has been referred to as “the lungs of the earth.” The SWEPCO power line would cut down trees and other vegetation from between 800 to 1,000 acres of land.
Gassaway isn’t just upset about the impacts to his business and the burden to farmers who supply his coffees, but how the line would affect neighbors. Many have high value homes on waterfront lots. Even if they aren’t concerned about herbicide runoff, most bought their homes because of beautiful lake views and access.
“When friends visit they are overwhelmed by the beautiful lake views and serenity of the natural environment,” Gassaway said. “One of my best friends has bought a swath of land near me where he planned to build a home. This proposed power line goes right through it.
“The value of property is gone if this thing goes through. Values will plummet on property people purchased for a premium. People could have trouble selling their homes. If property values go down, tax collections will go down. Carroll County could lose part of our tax base. We already have to fight for infrastructure dollars.”
Gassaway said he totally agrees with Save The Ozarks, a citizen group opposing the new power line as unnecessary. “SWEPCO is a non-caring, profit-driven large corporation that just cares about bigger profits,” Gassaway said. “I’m really upset about what they are trying to do, not just to Mountain Bird Coffee, but the entire area.”
SWEPCO states that maintenance of the rights-of-way will be done with EPA-registered herbicides that are applied by licensed application contractors.
“The labels on these EPA-registered herbicides are the law,” said SWEPCO spokesman Peter Main.
“If the label states not to use in areas that are sensitive such as streams, ponds, lakes, rivers, we must follow the label. An example would be leaving buffers to sensitive areas.”
A question has come up whether the company would use helicopters to spray the herbicides. Main said in Arkansas, “virtually all their selective herbicide work” is ground application.
“Our company and contract personnel normally contact property owners in person or with door hanger cards prior to vegetation management activities on their properties and will visit with landowners if they have concerns,” Main said.
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