Thursday, May 23, 2013
The Board of Commissioners of the Inspiration Point Rural Fire Protection District and the Grassy Knob Volunteer Fire Association have written to the Arkansas Public Service Commission (APSC) to unanimously express strong opposition to the proposed Shipe Road-Kings River 345 kV electrical transmission line project.
“It is our belief and concern that the proposed electrical transmission line project would significantly increase the risk of wild land fires in our district, and in adjacent fire districts, both during the construction and operational phases of the project,” states the Inspiration Point letter. “This increased risk would tax and deplete the limited resources of our departments and the forestry service, and greatly add to operational and equipment costs. Most of the fire departments in the area have limited resources for fighting wild land fires. The proposed routes for the project come very near populated areas, which would have numerous structures that need protecting. The routes also cross remote areas that would be difficult and costly to access.”
Four of the proposed SWEPCO alternatives, including the company’s preferred alternative, go through the Inspiration Point Fire District.
Fire department leaders are concerned that in addition to increasing costs and wear and tear on their equipment, the lines have potential to seriously diminish the property values in their fire protection district.
“Our district is composed largely of private homes and lodging for tourists that come to the area for its recreational opportunities and scenic beauty,” the letter states. “We believe the proposed project will negatively affect the property values of the members of our district and seriously affect the income of our businesses. We are very concerned that the project will also lead to residents leaving the area. All of these potential impacts could drastically reduce the fire district’s ability to collect dues and raise the funds we need to provide fire protection and medical service to our residents.
“The Board of Commissioners of the Inspiration Point Rural Fire Protection District strongly urges the Commissioners of the Arkansas Public Service Commission to deny SWEPCO's application.”
Fire Chief Ed Thompson said obviously the terrain in the Inspiration Point Fire district is very rugged – that is one of the things makes so beautiful.
“The problem with fires in isolated areas is they are very difficult to get to,” Thompson said. “A lot of times fire fighters have to hike in with backpacks carrying water and sprayers to try to get these fires under control. It is very taxing physically. Many of our volunteer fire fighters are not young. Hiking to put out a fire in remote areas is not something we have to do very often, and we are concerned we would have to do it a lot more during the construction phase of the power line and its life.”
With SWEPCO having to clear a massive amount of trees and underbrush from the 150-foot-wide right of ways, normally the only practical way to handle the debris is to burn it. That can create hazards and extra work for volunteer firefighters. Thompson said some construction companies leave the fires burning at night. People can see fires better at night and call the volunteer fire department, which may be called out unnecessarily. Or, winds can pick up and spread the fire.
In addition to the normal hazards a firefighter has trying to put out a structure that is on fire, there are additional hazards for a wildfire in the woods.
“We all see stories of firefighters who get trapped because the wind changes, but there are other concerns like trip/fall hazards in rugged terrain,” he said. “Snakebites are a worry because snakes are trying to get out of the fire and they aren’t in any good mood. Another significant hazard when working along a high voltage power line is electrocution. You walk into the smoke, and you can become a conductor. It is hazardous working around the electricity. We are a lot of times working with water, which is another conductor hazard.”
The Grassy Knob Volunteer Fire Association has similar concerns. Fire Chief Robert E. McVey said in a letter to the APSC that in their area transmission lines could be hit by tornados and most certainly, ice storms.
“Downed lines cause a fire hazard that we as a small volunteer fire department are ill-equipped to handle,” McVey said. “It also creates a great risk for forest fires that can lead to structures being lost in addition to possible injuries to the firefighters. As a retirement community, most of my firefighters are quite elderly and not in the greatest of health. This gives me cause for great concern.”
Presently, their fire engines and water tankers are not four-wheel drive capable, which means when a fire erupts along the line, they will not be able to access it.
McVey said folks who retired here for the beauty of the forest would suffer severe property devaluation should they be within sight of such transmission lines, which could affect voluntary submission of dues to the fire department.
“Our area attracts quite a bit of tourism trade for the beauty,” McVey said. “Many cabins, motels and bed and breakfast units depend on the income from this trade. A transmission line cut would be disastrous to this trade, as well as decrease property values. The Grassy Knob Volunteer Fire Association Board urges the APSC to deny SWEPCO’s application.”
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