Thursday, July 25, 2013
After the hearing last week before the Arkansas Public Service Commission administrative law judge, one can say Eureka Springs is a community where people stand up for what they care about as 229 people spoke against SWEPCO clear cutting a swath 150-ft.-wide for at least 48 miles from Benton County to near the Kings River.
Some speakers had difficulty controlling their emotions. They spoke of sleepless nights and concern of the future. They gave eloquent testimony to the damage the project has already caused to the emotional well being of the community, while pledging to do all in their power to protect the Ozark Mountains.
“The depth, sincerity, clarity and number of responses made the public hearing the most powerful event I’ve witnessed in my 38 years as a resident of Eureka Springs,” said Doug Stowe, who is on the board of directors of Save The Ozarks (STO). “How could anyone have witnessed the public hearing and not be impressed?”
Speakers conveyed concern about the alternative routes being considered for the high voltage line that would have towers 150-foot-tall and taller every 800 feet, requiring drilling of boreholes up to ten feet wide and 30 feet deep in the fragile karst terrain.
Following two days of public comments in Eureka Springs, a similar hearing held in Rogers drew 64 speakers – all speaking in opposition to the project. That hearing was held for only one day because everyone who signed up had the opportunity to speak the first day.
“I had my doubts that there would be a good turnout in Rogers,” said Stowe. “Most folks have become accustomed to power lines running rampant and out of their control. Also, television reports showed wimpy normal power lines as video background in their coverage of the issue and folks were plainly misled as to what this power line will look like and what it will do to the character of their communities. In various communities, too, there seemed to be the assumption that their elected officials through their interventions will be able to protect them. Here in Eureka Springs and Carroll County it became clear from the outset that we were largely on our own and that we had to take the lead if there was to be any response.”
A lot of people who spoke at the public hearing were worried, both about how they could be impacted on a personal level and how the area’s tourism economy could be impacted if tourists start shunning the area if scenic areas like the rivers, lakes and overlooks are marred by a gigantic transmission line. Speaker after speaker addressed concerns about major construction in the fragile karst landscape, which one speaker described as like Swiss cheese, and what impact that might have on caves and springs.
There have also been fears that it is a “done deal,” that this is a federal mandate that will go through even if there is nearly unanimous opposition to the project in Carroll County. But STO is not about to give up.
“We are continuing the legal process to stop the power line,” Stowe said. “We had been informed early in the process that political response is important in giving momentum to a legal case. Folks on commissions will rarely stand up in legal proceedings against projects put forth by corporations unless they see significant political justification for their doing so. So what our own folks gave to our legal process by spending two full days standing up against the project was important support for all that comes next. Those who took time to comment at the hearings are the wind that provides lift for STO legal action which could not proceed without citizen support.”
There are cases elsewhere in the country where similar citizen battles have been won. In New York State, the power companies tried to put in a 500 kV power line.
“Our expert witness Richard Smardon worked on that one,” Stowe said. “The citizens prevailed against the power companies and their federal mandate to put in that line. There are other examples where the citizens prevailed.”
Another STO director, Pat Costner, said the amazing public hearing had an enormous impact where it counts the most – with the people of Northwest Arkansas. “Now we need to focus that ‘people power’ where it will count the most – on Gov. Mike Beebe, other elected officials and the board and investors of American Electric Power, the parent company of SWEPCO,” Costner said.
Stowe said it should be clearly understood that the SWEPCO proposal to run a line from Shipe Road to a $600,000 cow pasture on the Kings River (real estate experts say SWEPCO paid four times what the property was worth) was SWEPCO’s idea and SWEPCO’s alone.
“The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC) and the Southern Power Pool (SPP) aren’t micromanaging power line routing at that level,” he said. “SPP wants a power line to reinforce this one that might give us trouble if one of those big super tornados took out the one they already have running from Centerton to Springfield.”
Opponents of the project said SWEPCO is using the opportunity instead to propose a line that would move massive amounts of more power than was indicated by SPP to relieve overloading if the line from Centerton to Springfield went out. Opponents allege the line isn’t about relieving overloading, but allowing SWEPCO to make out-of-state sales from the company’s dirty coal fired power plants in Arkansas.
The next step in the SWEPCO power line issue will be evidentiary hearings in Little Rock that begin Aug. 26. The administrative law judge, Connie Griffin, who conducted public hearings in Eureka Springs and Rogers, will hear testimony and cross examination of expert witnesses. The judge will make a recommendation to the three-member Public Service Commission, which can accept or reject her recommendations.
STO plans to be busy in the month ahead prior to the hearings in Little Rock in August.
“We will be working to keep the public informed, working to raise money, helping attorneys file motions on the APSC docket, and planning ways to keep the public involved all the way through,” Stowe said. “SWEPCO wants to run right through the most beautiful lands in Northwest Arkansas because we’re too powerless to stop them. Are they right? I don’t think so.”
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