Thursday, May 30, 2013
Would you put an electric transmission line with 150-foot towers in the Grand Canyon? Or next to one of the waterfalls of Yosemite National Park?
A new group, Friends of the White River (www.FriendsoftheWhiteRiver.org), has formed to protect the Inspiration Point area not just from visual blight, but also environmental disturbances that couldn’t be avoided if the power lines go through.
Wanda Kertzman is a member of the board of the directors for Friends of the White River. She and her husband, Dwight, own Castle Antiques at Inspiration Point, and also a stately, stone-sided historic home next door that is one of the more unusual and picturesque in the Ozarks.
The high voltage towers and lines would run within 400 feet of the Kertzman’s home. They believe it would affect not only the resale value of their home, but their business and health.
The Friends’ group is very alarmed about clear cutting of the proposed line as it parallels the river because cutting all trees and other vegetation for a 150-foot-wide path along the river would cause soil to run into the river, which currently has clear, clean water. Kertzman said sedimentation isn’t just a visual problem, but can negatively impact fish and other aquatic organisms in a river that has long been considered one of the top trout fisheries in the country.
“Then there is the issue of the herbicides,” she said. “SWEPCO’s environmental impact statement says they will take due caution, but there is no way anyone could keep all of that from running down into the river. The entire ecology of the river is going to be severely impacted. We are worried about that. Our drinking water could be affected.”
Patricia Helwig, who has Ph.D. in geology and paleontology, is another resident of the area and a member of the Friends’ board who has major concerns about SWEPCO proposals.
Helwig said herbicides aren’t regulated as well as SWEPCO would like people to believe. While herbicides are registered by the EPA, Helwig said there are particular concerns about the common practice by electric utilities of mixing herbicides together to create a toxic brew that may be many times more harmful than each herbicide used alone.
“Another concern is that whenever you have steep slopes, there is a much greater tendency to have movement of the soil and the rock,” Helwig said. “If you clear off all vegetation, then in times of heavy rain we are going to get not just more erosion, but higher flood waters because vegetation is not there to soak up flood water. Some people’s homes have already flooded along the White River. This project could make it worse.”
Helwig said the Arkansas Public Service Commission (APSC) has certain rules about who can intervene in the proceedings and whether the parties can be accepted as intervenors. “We were told we shouldn’t bother talking about scenic beauty, just how it was going to impact us financially or geologically,” Helwig said. “That is nonsense. We need to tell the commission and SWEPCO that this is a part of Northwest Arkansas that shouldn’t be touched. It should be preserved for the future. We should be protecting places that are so special. This project would create a scar that would take hundreds of years to heal, if ever.”
Helwig said it is hard to even envision what it would be like having one of the high voltage transmission towers next to your home.
“At some homes in the area, it is right out the front door,” Helwig said. “It would be like coming out of your door into a science fiction horror movie. It would be ever present in our lives.”
Kertzman agrees that the power poles and lines would create a huge blight.
“We get hundreds of thousands of people who come right here to this area because of the beauty,” Kertzman said. “They don’t come because a large power line is attractive.”
Friends is opposing routes 62 and 86 that cross land owned by members of the organization. Helwig said they would have preferred to talk about other routes, too, but were advised to talk about only the routes that cross their land. The part of the White River on the routes that will be considered by the Friends of the White River intervention is from Beaver Dam down the valley past Wolf Ridge. Kertzman said they know this route really well, which is helping them gather relevant data.
“In our written testimony for APSC that is due the end of June, we will talk about why our two routes are not suitable, but will not encourage anyone to choose other routes,” Helwig said.
Almost 50 groups across Northwest Arkansas have filed to intervene in the proceedings. Kertzman said the Friends’ group wishes every one of them the same success the Friends hopes to have. And she hopes the Friends’ group will continue after the SWEPCO controversy ends.
“This is a group we hope will not die after this issue,” she said. “It is a very significant river. The White River is only the second National Blueway named by the federal government. I doubt SWEPCO knew about that when they proposed running high voltage power lines along the river.”
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