Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Faith Pettit-Shah and Michael Shah met in Eureka Springs 37 years ago. Their two children were born in Eureka Springs, but the couple has spent most of their adult lives in Washington D.C., where they operated a jewelry business two blocks from the White House. About seven years ago on a visit, they found and fell in love with a farm near the Kings River and Keels Creek.
After buying the farm, the Shahs have been renovating a tiny, old farmhouse, building a new passive solar guesthouse, renovating an old dairy barn into a woodworking studio, planting trees and otherwise nurturing their homestead for retirement.
“We have spent seven years and half of our retirement money getting this ready so when we sold our business, we would have done what we needed to live here,” Faith said.
Then, a month before the big move, they found out about a proposed SWEPCO high voltage power line near their property. When Faith learned about it, she quit her job and has been working full-time to stall and now prevent the entire project, using contacts in D.C., locally and elsewhere to raise awareness of the issues. The Shahs planned to be “sort of invisible” as they eased back into life in Eureka Springs. But they can’t keep silent about the unwarranted mauling of pristine, vulnerable ecosystems they feel would wreck their retirement dreams.
“We were totally devastated by the news about this proposed power line,” Faith said. “Our situation is not as dire as folks who are underneath a proposed route, but it is too close to us, ruining our most precious views. It is such an unbelievable invasion. If the southern route is chosen, there is no way for us to get out of the valley without coming too close to them every single day. Carroll Electric Cooperative Corp. just destroyed the sides of Rocky Top Road. We thought that was bad enough.
“We adore this place for the views. We walked the land for the proposed green route, and asked, ‘Can we live with this?’ We sure hope we don’t have to. If we can stop it, we will fight for everyone.”
The green line southern route very near the Shah’s property (and through several friends’ properties) is not SWEPCO’s most direct or shortest; it is one of six routes under consideration. It parallels the blue route for a few miles towards the proposed Kings River Station transmission facility. With fierce opposition to the shorter northern routes, there are concerns this less populated route could be chosen instead. Faith was particularly alarmed when she read that a member of the Eureka Springs City Council actually commented that the green line might avoid the lines being viewed from many historic buildings of Eureka, and therefore might be a better option.
“I think SWEPCO took a Google map and said, ‘Hey, there aren’t a lot of people down there, let’s put it there’,” Faith said. “There were so many challenges to this route, I question their sanity in thinking any routes are viable. Did anyone get out of a car to look or walk around? This area is mostly karst terrain. Where do they think the herbicides will go?
“We are 100 percent on board with saving historic Eureka Springs and all the northern routes. We may not have a lot of manmade historic buildings, but we have beautiful, open, undisturbed fields, valleys, hollows and bald eagle flight paths. It would destroy so many views and cross many rivers and streams on all routes. There is no good route. The scariest part is that most folks out here still don’t know about the imminent threat.”
Like most people in the area, they moved to this area to get away. “If we do not stop this, it will be a domino effect and there won’t be many ‘aways’ to get to anymore,” Faith said.
Faith and Michael fear a defeatist attitude in the more rural areas. Michael is gradually going to neighbors, helping erect anti-SWEPCO signs, getting signatures and making folks aware of what could happen. “Everyone in town is up in arms, being vocal and proactive to work against the proposal,” she said. “Farther out, we’ve heard: ‘We can’t do anything about it. It is coming.’ People feel they don’t have a say.
“We believe a groundswell of awareness can defeat the entire proposal, and build a template for other communities who will face this in the future. I tell all my friends who are not local, but enjoy visiting beautiful places, ‘You are next. If they can do it here, they can take your property too’.
“The pain and suffering everyone is experiencing ... this is not good,” Faith said. “I feel bad for everyone near it, the families with children and the defenseless animals. I recently read about the Supreme Court of Minnesota ruling in favor of dairy farmers whose cows produced less milk and suffered pain from high voltage leakage. You can’t tell me that the lines don’t have an effect on the health of people. I take a hard line stance. Just because we need to improve the future grid isn’t good enough justification for the exposure to the risks from electromagnetic fields. Heck, every other person we meet is going solar. Where is the need? We need smarter, cleaner ways of delivering electricity. Coal burning is Neanderthal.”
Opponents suspect the bottom line driving the project isn’t the need to strengthen the grid, but a case of a big corporation and its Wall Street bankers making three or four percent additional profit off the backs of people who won’t even use the power.
“That is the despicable part,” Faith said. “It is going through us, not to us.”
About 4,000 comments opposing the power line had been posted by mid-May to the Arkansas Public Service Commission website. Faith said opponents are aiming for 10,000 comments and praying that will help.
Power companies have profits guaranteed by the government, so utilities don’t sink or swim like a regular business. Michael questions why people were not notified when plans were first made for the new transmission line back in 2007, and strongly objects that there really is no proven need.
“Who would have approved 345kV, and possibly double, transmission lines when the power is not being used in the area they are going through?” he asks. “I did some obvious reading about the Wall Street firms that invest in SWEPCO and it is business as usual, very self serving. When you follow the money, you have to ask who ends up making the money and who is at risk? Those are the questions behind what route or why there should be any route at all. It might be a good investment for Wall Street, but is it a good investment for the SWEPCO ratepayers who will have to pay for it?”
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