Thursday, May 23, 2013
Representatives of Carroll County in the state legislature said they are receiving calls and emails from constituents who have concerns about the proposed 48-mile-long SWEPCO high voltage transmission line.
“I’m concerned. I think it could be potentially devastating to the area,” said Sen. Bryan King (R-Green Forest). “I’ve had multiple discussions with Public Service Commission Director John Bethel about where we go from here. I’m trying to help people with the intervention phase if they weren’t properly notified that their property is along one of the proposed routes.
“The second thing I’m working on is to make sure there is a long enough public comment period. A lot of times when they don’t have a long comment period, people aren’t able to get their concerns out. I encourage people to get their concerns out. People don’t need to think their voice doesn’t matter.”
King accepted a $1,000 campaign contribution from SWEPCO, and a $1,000 campaign contribution from its parent company, AEP. But in an interview with the Independent, King said he is a strong defender of private property rights.
“I’m a property rights guy, and I believe in that,” King said. “There was a bill in this recent session that would have strengthened private property rights that I supported. This is something I thought was very important, that people’s property rights should be protected. That is what our country is about.”
King said he also has concerns about property owners receiving fair value for lands they have to give up for projects like a new power line.
“Sometimes people are not adequately compensated,” he said.
King urged residents not to feel defeated and think the SWEPCO power line is a “done deal.” He said first SWEPCO must prove that the power line is needed, and if that is proven, that they have chosen the most environmentally safe and respectful way to proceed.
Rep. Bob Ballinger (R-Hindsville) said when the issue first heated up, he was getting calls and an average of 40 emails per day about it. “It is probably the most important thing I’ve dealt with since the session ended,” Ballinger said. “Tourists come to the area because it is beautiful. Look at the route below Inspiration Point. A power line there is not what people are coming to look at when they come to Northwest Arkansas. If more power lines come through, that isn’t Arkansas the Natural State. There are legitimate issues we need to be concerned with.”
Ballinger said if SWEPCO can’t prove the line is needed, he would have to stand firmly against it.
“I have been visiting with the folks at SWEPCO, Carroll Electric and the Public Service Commission,” Ballinger said. “If we need the power, and they can demonstrate it and show the infrastructure can’t grow without more power, we have to figure out something. If that is the case, someone has to have power lines. If they can prove that, they need to prove the route they are choosing has the least amount of impact and that they are adequately compensating people whose property is being taken.”
Ballinger has already talked to a couple who are leaving the area because of the power line threat. The couple doesn’t even live on the preferred route.
“What I would say at this point is nobody knows what route it is going over,” he said. “No one knows how people are going to be affected. One thing we do know is the legal system requires just compensation. Some people are being unrealistic and unreasonable, but for the most part people are passionately concerned and I don’t blame them. I understand people’s concerns. I don’t blame them for being worried, but there is a process we can work through. There is a way to work it out. So what I would say is until we know the specifics of what route it will go over and how property owners will be compensated, don’t get too upset about it.”
Ballinger said many people prefer the SWEPCO alternative that goes up into Missouri. But he has been told SWEPCO doesn’t consider that route feasible because it doesn’t deliver power in Missouri and is unlikely to get regulatory approval there.
“It would be great if they chose the Missouri route,” he said. “If we find the Missouri route is chosen, great. But it is like the southern routes. They looked at those as not really being legitimate considerations.”
Ballinger also received campaign contributions from the electric utility industry including $350 from SWEPCO and $500 from the Arkansas Electric Cooperative.
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