Thursday, May 16, 2013
Eureka Springs is a place where unique things blossom. One of those things is Fresh Harvest, an extra virgin olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar gourmet shop with a tasting room popular with both locals and tourists.
But now the owners of the new business, Troy Johnson and Steve Ketchersid, are concerned about a double whammy from the proposed SWEPCO high voltage transmission lines: They fear it could harm their business by impacting tourism and devalue their home and enjoyment of their home in the Keels Creek and Kings River area.
“We just opened this business, and now SWEPCO is proposing to do things that are going to take away from the tourism of Eureka Springs and decrease land values,” Johnson said. “We bought a house here eight years ago and finally got to move here from Hayward, Calif., in June 2012. Then we’ve sunk everything we have into opening a business, Fresh Harvest, bringing world-class products here you could only get in major cities before. We bought four acres way out on a ridge, and now when you open our front door, you are going to see on the next ridge this massive, mega power line. It is just crazy. It is actually not crossing our land, but is proposed to go through our neighbors’ properties all along the ridge next to us.”
Eureka Springs generates significant sales tax revenues to the state, and Johnson questions why they would want to endanger that.
“It makes no sense to me,” he said. “Why they would even consider putting a power line in front of Inspiration Point? That doesn’t make any sense to me, either.”
Johnson said he also has concerns that SWEPCO ratepayers will be expected to foot the bill for the $116.7 million project.
“Rates are going to go up for everyone involved,” he said. “To pay for something we don’t want that is going to hurt the environment and hurt tourism has really got us angry. We chose Eureka because we love Eureka Springs. We love the people and we love the Ozarks. At least fifty percent of our customer base is tourists, so we are concerned about this mega power line.”
Johnson said they couldn’t find justification for the project, which opponents have dubbed “the power line to nowhere.” And he would like to see SWEPCO seriously embrace alternatives such as renewable energy.
“Where we came from in the Bay Area, there is a lot of wind and solar power,” Johnson said. “It is a growing industry there, and it is providing more and more of the electrical needs of the area. I think that is an incredibly responsible approach rather than relying on the traditional coal plants. Solar used to be prohibitively expensive, but these days they are making the panels much more affordable. If SWEPCO would come to us and say, ‘We need this, and this is why we need this’, we could all sit down and talk about this. But it seems like decisions are made for us. We are paying the bills. We are paying the taxes. And we have no say so. They can come in, take your land, raise your rates and basically they do whatever they want. They need to listen to their employers, the customers.”
Johnson’s partner, Steve Ketchersid, said the world has changed a lot since 2007 when studies were done that have been the justification for the new line.
“They should revisit studies and see if the need is still there,” Ketchersid said. “They need to cross all the T’s and dot all the I’s before deciding on something that is truly not needed and will impact the environment in a negative way. They should also consider the use of alternative power such as windmills or solar. In the past few years with all the new technology coming out for green energy, it would behoove a public energy company to look again at the options. The current ways of generating electricity may become passé in coming years the way technology is moving. You don’t want to be stuck with old machines. Today’s machines will be antiques. “
Ketchersid said the uniqueness of Northwest Arkansas would be heavily disturbed by big changes like this. People like to visit places that are unspoiled, very pristine.
“I think Eureka Springs offers that,” he said. “Eureka offers a look into the past, and huge power lines coming over your head disturb that picturesque vision of Eureka Springs.”
A former banker, Ketchersid said he has no problem with SWEPCO making a reasonable rate of return. “SWEPCO is not in the business to be losing money, and stockholders would be offended if it lost money,” he said. “Certainly they deserve to make a profit, but I’m concerned about the percentage of the profit and who is actually benefiting from that, because obviously profits aren’t being put back into updating technologies. It sounds like putting the cart before the horse. Hopefully, the regulation process SWEPCO is going through will help them learn how to do business in a better way.”
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