Thursday, August 01, 2013
Charlotte Downey, owner of the Beaver Dam Store from 1984-2005 and a biologist by education, has spent many years hunting, fishing and enjoying nature in the White River area. When she received notification that her 100-acre property was on one of the routes being considered by SWEPCO for a 345 kilovolt (kV) transmission line, Downey dug in to learn all she could.
What she found was an enormous number of errors in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that brings into question whether SWEPCO has the ability to do the project responsibly.
Downey said the White River has “gone missing” from Beaver Dam to Holiday Island in the route maps SWEPCO sent to property owners, as well as in the EIS that is supposed to study effects of the proposed line. The EIS also gets the direction of the White River wrong, stating that it flows south when, in fact, it flows north from its origin in the Boston Mountains.
Also gone missing from the report are economic values associated with eco-tourism.
“The fact they thought our primary economic activity is forestry and mining, my jaw dropped when I saw that,” said Downey, whose Beaver Dam Store business provided retail fishing equipment, guide services and canoeing, rafting and kayaking outfitting. “Our economy is not mining and forestry, as reported in the EIS. Our economy is ecotourism. Visitors from many states frequent this area because they desire scenic beauty, natural environment and serenity lacking in densely populated cities. These folks spend a lot of money while here.”
Downey said Eureka Springs could be a poster child for how a community went from a meager economy to one with a flourishing ecotourism economy year around.
“Rather than bulldoze down acres and acres of our green space, we have preserved it and figured out ways to make a living here and attract other people to this community,” Downey said. “How many places in the U.S. can say that?”
Also “gone missing” from the EIS is an accurate count of how many people would view the power lines. There are 750,000 visitors annually, according to the Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce. Only local residents, and not visitors, are counted in the EIS relative to how many people will view the power poles.
“The visitors would see and hear the power lines, and they should be given great consideration in a proper EIS as their expenditures contribute greatly to Arkansas sales tax coffers and support our local businesses,” Downey said.
She also is concerned that the EIS doesn’t say anything about the Ozark chinquapin tree that only occurs in Northwest Arkansas, Southwest Missouri and Northwest Oklahoma.
“The Ozark chinquapin is only found in this one little corner of the world where these three states converge,” Downey said. “They are listed as a sensitive species by the U.S. Forestry Service. Nowhere in the EIS, and I read it from front to back, is the Ozark chinquapin mentioned.”
Other major oversights she noted are consideration of impacts to the historic Beaver Bridge, negative impacts on scenic vistas, and failure to recognize the towers would be visible from the Eureka Springs Historic District.
“Tens of thousands of people come here for the beauty,” Downey said. “It is a vital part of our economy. In the July issue of AARP, the State of Arkansas had an advertisement that included a full-page photo of downtown Eureka Springs. That is evidence of the economic importance of our historic and natural beauty.”
There is also photographic evidence that American bald eagles mate and rear young on the White River. Downey said it should ordinarily be part of any EIS, federal or state, to include information on breeding and nesting populations of bald eagles. The nesting site and surrounding area is protected from disturbance by federal law.
“Eagles’ wingspans are incredible, so they are at great risk of being electrocuted by power lines like this,” she said. “I have personally witnessed bald eagles above my property in the summer. They are not just here in the winter.”
The bottom line for her is that the EIS done by a consulting company in Dallas, Texas, is inaccurate and full of errors.
“The EIS conclusion that the project would have “minimal impact,” is not true,” Downey said. “I am appalled at the obvious lack of knowledge of the area, the economy, historical significant and environmental considerations, making the EIS seem more frivolous than factual. If this piece is that flawed, how can we move forward in good faith that any other information from SWEPCO is accurate and truthful? You cannot do it. Just on the inaccuracy of the EIS alone, this project should be denied.”
Downey has concerns about the runoff of herbicides used to maintain rights-of-way. One of the proposed lines parallels Spider Creek, a primary tributary to the White River. Downey said since the creek receives runoff from very steep terrain, any herbicides sprayed could go directly into the river which Arkansas Game & Fish stock with more than 100,000 trout every year.
“The trout fishing in this river supports the economy of motels, lodges, outfitters and fishing guides for much of the western portion of Carroll County,” Downey said. “The preferred route has to pass over the White River, so you aren’t going to be able to avoid herbicides going into the river. I’ve kept my pastureland and creeks free of herbicides and pesticides. Spraying would destroy the opportunity for organic labeling for food crops produced here.
“Rights-of-way create ‘a wildlife freeway.’ Wildlife will traverse the clearing just as people because it is an easier path.
“It makes the young of the wild turkey, Arkansas’s prized game species, and all small mammals more vulnerable to predation,” Downey said. “Any birds and animals in these corridors are subject to being contaminated by the herbicides. These animals lick their fur and preen their feathers, so they will ingest this material.
“The other issue is they don’t tell us the exact chemical makeup of what they are spraying. These chemicals would wash into the White River and accumulate there. Small frogs and other aquatic animals are at even greater risk where there are smaller bodies of water that concentrate the poison. My understanding is you have no choice whether herbicides are used under these huge power lines that go through your property. You can’t opt out. They aren’t going to use mechanical means to control growth.”
Downey is opposed not just to the power line going through her property, but going anywhere in the area.
“I am opposed to all of those lines,” she said. “I do not trust SWEPCO. To me, their arguments are self serving.”
Eds. note: In an article July 18, “Residents say NO! eloquently,” Charlotte Downey was quoted saying the Ozark chinquapin is an endangered species. Downey said it is listed as a sensitive species by the U.S. Forest Service. She also said SWEPCO EIS listed two major industries as farming and mining rather than forestry and mining.
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