Thursday, August 15, 2013
The Arkansas Public Service Commission (APSC) has approved a motion to remove Routes 62, 86 and 91 from consideration for the proposed Shipe Road to Kings River 345 kiloVolt power line proposed by American Electric Power (AEP) subsidiary Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO). While these included the route by Thorncrown Chapel and routes in the viewshed of Inspiration Point and historic Spring Street in Eureka Springs, by no means has opposition to the project been ended.
Thorncrown Chapel alone generated thousands of comments to the APSC in opposition to the project. But, from the beginning, organizers of Save The Ozarks (STO) have taken the position that all six routes should be opposed on the grounds that the project is not needed and is not in the best interest of the public. STO has opposed a “divide and conquer” approach that would pit landowners on one route against landowners on other routes.
Of the 47 initial opposition intervenors, 38 remain. STO Director Pat Costner said most of those who have withdrawn have done so since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ firm “No” to Routes 62, 86 and 91.
“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.”
By proposing six routes, AEP/SWEPCO magnified the amount of opposition because so many different landowners faced their property being taken or devalued by power poles 140 to 160 feet tall placed on massive steel towers on a 150-ft.-wide right-of-way.
“AEP/SWEPCO proposed six routes, at least two of which were obviously throwaways, route 91 through Eureka Springs and route 109 through Missouri,” Costner said. “AEP/SWEPCO diverted attention away from the primary issue – the need for the project – by focusing attention on the six routes. As expected, the people whose land is in jeopardy felt compelled to devote their limited resources to opposing routes that traverse their particular parcels of land.
“Of the remaining opposition intervenors, only three have challenged the entire project –Save the Ozarks, the Danos Family and the Neighbors Group. Save the Ozarks, which represents the largest number of landowners by far, is the only opposition intervenor that has brought in the expertise necessary to unravel and discount SWEPCO’s technical arguments for the project.”
One of the major opponents of the project in Eureka Springs has been Doug Stowe, a woodwork artist and teacher who was named an Arkansas Living Treasure in 2009. The route that would have gone through Stowe’s property has been removed from consideration, but Stowe continues to oppose all routes.
“The AEP/SWEPCO Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is not the kind of thing that should give any Arkansas landowner any sense of security,” Stowe said. “If a corporation can produce such a distorted document and then use it to foist this power line on anyone, it would be a miscarriage of justice that would leave all Arkansas landowners vulnerable.
“Also, the fact that their application to the APSC fails to follow Arkansas law should give pause to anyone concerned with basic principles of justice. Then to see what route 108 proposes for the Kings River and to the City of Springdale, and all the wonderful places between, is a shocker. Route 33, AEP/SWEPCO’s preferred route, crosses the Highway 62 approach to Eureka six times and parallels it in two others for a distance of over a mile. Is that good for tourism?”
Stowe and others have protested that the EIS fails to accurately describe potential negative economic impacts the project could have on tourism. The only place economic impact is mentioned in the AEP/SWEPCO application and the APSC response to that testimony is where a APSC senior electrical engineer acknowledges there will be very little positive economic impact to the local communities from the construction of the power line.
“Should that warm anyone’s heart to what AEP/SWEPCO has proposed for us?” Stowe said.
In testimony filed recently with the APSC, Stowe addresses requirements of the law that the applicant access and describe the economic impact of the project on the local community.
“That the application does so in only the most cursory manner makes the application itself in violation of Arkansas state law, and would place the APSC in violation of that law if it were to approve the project on any of its proposed routes,” Stowe said.
Ilene Powell is another property owner who continues to oppose all routes even though the two routes that would have gone across her property near Inspiration Point are off the table.
“Two remaining routes, 33 and 109, cross the White River in front of our property, so we would still be greatly affected,” Powell said. “We would still lose value in our property due to loss of view, and since not traversed, there would be no compensation for our loss. We built our house for the view and it adds value to the property.”
Powell said SWEPCO would love to lessen the opposition, but that she will continue to fight the project until the APSC denies this application for the entire project.
“SWEPCO was not doing anyone any favors by asking the court to formally withdraw the three routes before the hearing,” Powell said. “All along they had throw away routes. How could they have ever thought those three routes would be acceptable? What I don’t get is why the Corps does not use the same criteria to deny SWEPCO the other three routes. Those still cross Corps property and the Corps is still not subject to eminent domain. Those routes still cause the same devastation to the other routes that the Corps objects to. Again, I think this is SWEPCO having their hand forced to respond and everyone should still keep fighting their application until it is denied in its entirety.”
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