Thursday, May 09, 2013
Staff for the Arkansas Public Service Commission (APSC) has recommended public hearings on the proposed Southwestern Electric Energy Co. (SWEPCO) 48-mile, 345 kilovolt (kV) transmission line be held July 15 and 16 in Northwest Arkansas, and that a hearing on the evidence be held August 26-30 before the APSC in Little Rock.
That hearing date didn’t sit well with Carroll County Justice of the Peace Dan Mumaugh, who lives on Pivot Rock Road in Eureka Springs. In a public comment on the proposed power line to the ARPSC, Mumaugh said: “I was unhappy to learn you will not hold a hearing, and thus not make a decision, regarding the 345 kV Shipe Road to Kings River power line route until ‘late summer’. Please, please, make this decision as soon as you can. Until you render a judgment regarding power line routing, people (many hundreds) must put extremely important, quality-of-life-affecting, and vital financial-related decisions on hold and many promising real estate sales/purchases are in the deep freeze. As important as it is, you must advance the schedule for this docket. If you cannot provide a final decision, could you, at the very least, narrow the choice or routes from six to two?
“Please do not allow agitators in/around Eureka and Beaver, many of whom are not directly impacted by the project, to slow you down. Also, do not let the seeming nicety of administrative thoroughness prolong this truly difficult situation. It will be much better to make an informed and reasonable decision early on in this case, than to keep everyone that is presenting and/or potentially and directly affected by it waiting on a ‘late summer’ hearing and subsequent decision. Again, please do not allow the reliably and perpetually afflicted “anti-everything” crowd to delay this vital process. Please move docket 13-041-U to the front of the line.”
Mumaugh said his home for sale on Pivot Rock Road has been taken off the market because of the SWEPCO proposals, and until a decision is made by the APSC, any real estate affected by the proposal is unlikely to sell.
“A thousand people are on tenterhooks on this thing,” Mumaugh said. “The sooner this is decided in accordance with the timeline, the better for everyone. People without the power line will get on with their lives, and those that get the power line will plan how to deal with it. I’m not for this project. I think it is terrible for everyone. But I want the decision made and I don’t want a group of people who are small and reliably opposed to everything delay the process. It would be a disservice to everyone. We need a decision.”
APSC Director John P. Bethel said advancing the schedule is unlikely.
“I don’t anticipate this will be on a fast track because the APSC wants to make sure the parties have an opportunity to analyze the requests and prepare recommendations to the commission,” Bethel said. “The commission has not yet adopted the schedule proposed by staff, but I would anticipate a schedule along those lines because there is a lot of information to consider. I don’t think the commission would want to make a decision without the opportunity to carefully consider the proposed routes and the need for the facility.”
Diane Murphy, Century 21 Woodland Real Estate, said there is no doubt that the power line controversy is a dark cloud over real estate sales. “It would deter almost any buyer from purchasing in any potentially impacted area,” Murphy said. “We have clients who purchased a place near one of the proposed routes just a few weeks before this information became public. One of their requirements in their property search was to not be near any large power lines. And now, though the lines won’t cross their property, they’re being faced with huge power lines nearby and in their sight line. We’ve had other clients in the path ask if they should sell quickly but, obviously, that’s not a solution, as any potential impact needs to be disclosed.
“We just need to keep fighting the entire project to protect everyone.”
State law requires that first the APSC determine if there is a need for the proposed project. Then, if a need is found, the APSC determines the most reasonable route. Bethel said the APSC would evaluate the evidence before making a decision in writing that is likely to come about a month after the hearing. By law, the decision must be rendered within 60 days of the hearing.
As of this week, nearly 4,000 comments had been made on the proposal on the website for the APSC, the vast majority of them opposing the project. Bethel said the large number of public comment would be taken into consideration.
Opponents have stated they were under the impression that APSC said concerns of individual landowners would not be taken into consideration.
“The impact on the affected landowners is a consideration that will be a factor in deciding the proper route for the facility,” Bethel said. “That is part of the consideration, the impact on property along the proposed route. That will be evaluated.”
Bethel said written comments would carry the same weight as comments made at public hearings.
Some cases before the APSC generate a lot of comment, and others don’t. “This one has,” he said.
The APSC has three commission members, all attorneys, who will make the decision. In addition to considering public comments, a number of entities have filed to intervene in the proceedings including the local group Save The Ozarks. Carroll County and the City of Eureka Springs have passed resolutions opposing the power line proposals, but have not intervened. Cities elsewhere on the route who have intervened include Cave Springs, Bentonville, Garfield, Gateway and Springdale.
Asked why Eureka Springs didn’t intervene, Mayor Morris Pate said, “The city council made that collective decision when they passed the resolution on Monday night’s council meeting... their decision should be sufficient!”
“As a city, we do not have the resources to prove or disprove whether the SWEPCO line is needed or not,” alderman James DeVito said. “Since none of the proposed routes cross city property our position is very limited in any criticism as to where SWEPCO wants to place their lines.”
However, a check of the city limits line shows a portion of the Eureka Spring railroad yard is included in the city limits. One of the routes for the proposed power line runs between the train station and the sewer plant. Opponents have stated that the 150 ft. tall transmission line would be visible from Spring Street and locations on North Main.
The resolution passed by the Eureka Springs City Council doesn’t discuss need for the line, and states that the city opposes the new power line “in the Eureka Springs area.”
Doug Stowe, who lives near the route that would pass between the train station and the city’s sewer plant, said it isn’t just people whose land is taken for the transmission line who would be affected.
“The route runs just north of the city limits,” he said. “It would be clearly visible from the city limits. It is crazy in all this that the only ones SWEPCO and the APSC assume will face damages from their unnecessary line expansion are the landowners, when in actual fact, all property owners will face loss of value of their homes and properties, higher taxes and higher utility rates. Those whose properties are near the lines but are not crossed by them will get no compensation for the loss of beauty and the loss of quality of life that results from them. For example, the line proposed on my property would run right along the property line shared with my neighbors to the south. They will have these 150-foot tall towers dwarfing their home, maintenance helicopters buzzing over their heads and get absolutely nothing in compensation for their loss.”
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