Thursday, June 27, 2013
There are six routes SWEPCO has under consideration for the proposed 345 kV power line from Shipe Road in Benton County to near the Kings River north of Berryville. Opponents say the proposed line is four times larger than what is needed to serve the electrical needs of Carroll County, and that a shorter route to achieve the power upgrades through Bella Vista wasn’t chosen because it is an elite, high-income community.
“We are a rural, low population, relatively low income county, so this really is an environmental justice issue,” said Pat Costner, a retired Greenpeace senior scientist and spokesperson for the anti-transmission line group, Save The Ozarks. “Bella Vista would have been a more direct route. If there were more of us and we had a lot more money, we would not be facing this threat.”
The Environmental Protection Agency states that environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.
“EPA has this goal for all communities and persons across this nation,” states the EPA website on environmental justice. “It will be achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn and work.”
Carroll County’s population in 2011 was 27,533 with 72 percent of the population rural. Benton County’s population in 2011 was 222,924 with 41 percent rural. The estimated median household income in 2009 in Carroll County was $32,818 compared to $48,764 in Benton County. The average per capita income in Bella Vista located north of Bentonville near the Missouri border was $55,170 in 2009 compared to an average of $20,970 in Eureka Springs.
Home values also show a gap with the average home in Carroll County valued at $119,521 compared to the average home value of Benton County of $153,400.
SWEPCO spokesman Peter Main said line routing options within Bella Vista were very limited given the relative density of existing homes in this area, as well as congestion and existing land uses along the I-540 corridor.
“A cursory inspection of the routing maps clearly shows that moving the proposed route (33) or the top three alternate routes (86, 62, 91) further north into Bella Vista would lengthen those routes,” Main said. “Potential route crossing points along I-540/US71 were limited to the presently less developed area between Bentonville and Bella Vista, or north into Missouri (route 109) or further south (route 108)."
Environmental justice is a consideration that has been raised by the EPA Region VII office regarding the route least preferred by SWEPCO that would run through southern Missouri near the state line.
“The EPA Region VII office pointed out the impact to low income people in Missouri should be considered,” Costner said. “The Missouri counties just north of us are very similar to Carroll County in this regard.”
In a letter dated Sept. 18, 2012, Region VI EPA said of the area under consideration in Missouri that, “As the study area includes portions of these Missouri counties with low income populations, we encourage you to identify and minimize any impacts to this project disproportionately placed on this population.”
The letter also said the three counties within the study area include some sensitive and unique aquatic resources that could be negatively affected by activities associated with the transmission line. “Multiple crossing of these special or unique waters should be avoided or minimized,” the letter states.
The proposed routes in Carroll County would cross the White and King’s rivers multiple times, raising concerns about construction impacts and maintenance activities including spraying herbicides on rights-of-way that could drain into the rivers.
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