Thursday, August 08, 2013
An expert witness for American Electric Power/Southwestern Electric Power Company has said a more in depth Environmental Impact Statement wasn’t necessary for the Shipe Road to Kings River high voltage power line. But AEP/SWEPCO apparently hadn’t realized in laying out six proposed alternative routes that it couldn’t use state powers of eminent domain to take federal property, including land along the White River owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).
AEP/SWEPCO recently said it was taking three of the six proposed routes, including routes that would be in the view of Inspiration Point and Thorncrown Chapel property, off the table because of widespread public opposition. But the USACE had already informed SWEPCO those routes weren’t acceptable.
“Proposed routes 62, 86, and 91 cross Corps of Engineers property in the Indian Creek area of Beaver Lake,” states a letter from the USACE dated July 10. “The proposed crossing is in an undisturbed area of the lake and does not follow any existing corridors across Government property. The potential impacts from Routes 62 and 86, specifically Path #12, are of greater concern because of the close proximity of the right-of-way to the White River. The path is proposed to run parallel for approximately a mile. The Corps will not, nor is able to make the land available for crossing at these locations because other practical alternatives are available. Please be advised eminent domain is not applicable to federal property.”
Nine days after the USACE letter was mailed to the Arkansas Public Service Commission (APSC), AEP/SWEPCO revealed its decision to deprioritize these three routes.
The letter expresses concerns for all of the routes including potential problems with erosion and sedimentation from loss of vegetation, the loss of bald eagle roosting habitat, impacts to cultural resources and aesthetic impacts from a 150-ft. right-of-way through general undisturbed areas.
The USACE also said any impacts to USACE property associated with crossing Beaver Lake, Table Rock Lake or the White River would require review for National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) compliance; a real estate instrument; a Regulatory Section 10 Permit; and non-statutory mitigation.
“The SWEPCO EIS dated March 2013 associated with this project does not fully address all potential impacts to Corps of Engineers’ property,” the USACE letter said.
Cindy Studer, owner of the Retreat at Sky Ridge that has two potential routes in the viewshed of the resort, said the USACE letter confirms concerns by opponents that the entire project is poorly done, incomplete and insufficient.
“SWEPCO’S whole proposal is terrible,” Studer said. “SWEPCO has obviously gotten away with poorly done, incomplete EISes and proposals in the past. The USACE is obviously flabbergasted that SWEPCO would even consider proposing these routes that all cross USACE property. It shows that SWEPCO’s proposal lacks even the most basic research. If they missed the USACE red flag in their planning, what does it say about the overall plan’s validity?”
Studer said the letter gives hope to the opponents of the project in Northwest Arkansas who value clean air, pristine wilderness, crystal clear water and abundant wildlife.
“We are speaking – loudly,” she said. “We must keep our voices raised. We won’t back down.”
Doug Stowe, a member of the board of directors of Save the Ozarks (STO), said the USACE position could mean that SWEPCO has to go back to the drawing board and do a new EIS.
“The USACE letter is particularly revealing after having read SWEPCO’s rebuttal testimony in which the expert witness spends two pages telling why a more in depth EIS was not required,” Stowe said. “The letter from the USACE says a more thorough review is necessary, and that no routes would be approved without it.”
Stowe said regardless of whether or not APSC goes along with AEP/SWEPCO’s plan, “you can’t just pull eminent domain on the good old U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.”
Stowe’s property is on one of the routes that have now been assigned a lower ranking by SWEPCO. The SWEPCO EIS said the project would have no impact on views from historic sites. Stowe said when he first looked at where the line would across his property just north of the Eureka Springs city limits, he realized the 150-ft. tall towers and lines would be visible from the Spring Street Historic Loop and from historic properties on Spring Street.
“I knew then in my heart that the EIS for the power line project was a deeply flawed and erroneous document,” Stowe said. “It neglected the importance of our environment to our community and to our economy. It was a relief to see that the USACE looked at that document and saw the same thing.”
The letter from the USACE was originally posted on the ASPC website at the end of a 32-page document that contained a couple dozen letters from citizens opposing the project. Stowe said he felt the very important letter was buried deliberately because other letters from government agencies were posted separately and clearly labeled to make them easy to find.
In a letter to APSC, Stowe said, “I ask you also that the Corps of Engineers letter be taken out of the file in which it is hidden and finally placed on its own in actual plain sight where it can be easily found, and read by those most concerned about this proposal.”
The ASPC complied and the USACE letter now has its own listing in the filings, “Public comment of Department of Defense (U.S. Army) regarding Southwestern Electric Power Company proposed transmission line routes.”
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