Thursday, May 23, 2013
State and federal agencies have written letters detailing concerns regarding the SWEPCO proposal to build a 48-mile-long high voltage transmission line between Shipe Road in Benton County and the Kings River in Carroll County.
The National Park Service (NPS) and the Department of Arkansas Heritage (DAH) have written letters objecting to not being consulted prior to SWEPCO developing routes that would harm historically and culturally significant properties. Some private landowners have also expressed shock that SWEPCO would consider putting the power line on such environmentally significant and scenic treasures as the White River below Inspiration Point.
A document filed by the SWEPCO states: “At this stage of the project, access to private property was not available, nor is it practicable to obtain access and conduct an on-the-ground survey for cultural resources for hundreds of miles of project alternatives.”
The NPS has filed a letter stating it was not consulted by SWEPCO regarding proposed routes that could have far-reaching impacts to the scenery, and the natural and cultural resources of the Pea Ridge National Military Park.
“We are concerned that Route 33, SWEPCO’s preferred route, as well as Route 62 would be sited only approximately 1,200 feet (or .2 miles) from the boundary of Pea Ridge National Military Park,” said a letter from John C. Scott, superintendent of Pea Ridge Military Park. “Proposed 150-foot-tall towers would rise well above the area’s tree canopy and likely be easily viewable from the visitor center and from numerous key overlooks within the park. As such, we are deeply concerned that these two routes may unacceptably impact park scenery, which at this point remains little changed from when the battle took place.
“Additionally, pursuant to the General Authorities Act of 1970, the park has identified nearby lands outside the boundary of the park in its 2006 General Management Plan for potential boundary adjustments. Many of these historically significant lands are located just south of the current park boundary and would be crossed by Route 33 and 62. To better understand potential impacts to historic and natural resources within the park we have encouraged SWEPCO to work with us to prepare visual simulations from the visitor center and key overlooks within the park.”
Scott said the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail could also be impacted by this project at a number of locations. The trail commemorates the forced removal of the Cherokee and other American Indian tribes from their homelands during 1838-1839, and subsequent relocation in eastern Oklahoma.
“The trail has great cultural significance to the Cherokee and other tribes,” Scott said. “Finally, it appears that the site of the February 7, 1861 Battle of Little Sugar Creek, located roughly four miles south of Pea Ridge National Military Park, could also be impacted by both Routes 86 and 91. This parcel of land is the site of the first Civil War battle in the state of Arkansas.”
The Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism has expressed concerns about one of the alternatives, route 91. Although the alternative identified as route 91 is not a preferred choice at this time, the department recommended not giving this route consideration for the following reasons:
- The route 91 alternative is planned along the north side of Eureka Springs. This city is a major tourist attraction area. Unsightly overhead lines would not be conducive to attracting visitors.
- Eureka Springs has received funding for city trail development that is protected by a 6(f)(3) boundary that protects the federal investment in recreational lands being converted to other uses. Even if the lines do not cross any part of the trail, visibility would not be desirable.
- Eureka Springs has also received funding for development of Lake Leatherwood Sports Complex. This part is also protected by a 6(f)(3) boundary.
- Devil’s Eyebrow Natural Area is also in the Eureka Springs area, and could be negatively affected by the proposed overhead power lines.
The Department of Arkansas Heritage (DAH) has sent a letter stating that the cultural resources background research done for the project was inadequate. “No indication was given that the cultural resources files at our office were consulted,” states a letter from Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer Frances McSwain. “No mention is made of visual impacts to historic properties. The proposed undertaking has a great potential to impact historic properties both directly through ground disturbance and indirectly through visual impacts. Both types of disturbances must be considered.”
McSwain said they also disagree with the number of archeological sites reported by the SWEPCO environmental impact statement as numerous known archeological sites that may be impacted were overlooked. McSwain’s letter details properties along all six routes under consideration that would be impacted. The department “strongly recommends against Route 62 which the agency believes would negatively impact the Eureka Springs Historic District and would likely cause visual impact to Thorncrown Chapel.”
The DAH also strongly recommends against route 33, the alternative preferred by SWEPCO, which the state said has potential to have both direct and visual impacts on the Pea Ridge battlefield.
“We are also concerned about the potential for visual impacts to other structures in the area, particularly Thorncrown Chapel,” McSwain said. “The structure, designed by Arkansas architect E. Fay Jones, is listed on the National Register of Historic Properties with national significance.”
McSwain said Route 91 also passes near Thorncrown Chapel, and would likely cause a visual impact to the property. Proposed Route 91 has potential to cause visual impacts on seven cultural resources, including the Eureka Springs Historical District.
DAH recommends a northern Route 109 that parallels the state line with Missouri as the route with the least harm to cultural resources, and Route 108, a route that is laid out south of Beaver Lake, as the second least damaging alternative. SWEPCO has listed Route 109 as their last choice of the six routes because of the difficulties of getting permits in Missouri, a state where SWEPCO doesn’t provide service.
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