Thursday, September 12, 2013
American Electric Power (AEP)/Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO) has said the current preferred Route 33 doesn’t have that much objection. But, in fact, many nearly 5,000 comments objecting to the project filed with the Arkansas Public Service Commission (APSC) opposed all the proposed routes.
And there is also a national treasure along Route 33 that the U.S. Department of Interior, National Park Service (NPS), said could be greatly harmed by the transmission line that would require clear cutting a 150 ft.-wide right-of-way for metal monopoles 150 ft. tall, three times higher than a standard utility pole.
NPS sent a letter of objections to impacts to the Pea Ridge National Military Park (PRNMP) in May, and in late August, NPS sent a 15-page letter detailing much broader concerns.
Doug Stowe, a member of the board of directors of Save The Ozarks, said the letter is a “scathing review” of the impact the transmission line would have on the park. Stowe said that AEP’S stated corporate values are at odds with their actions such as the harm their preferred Route 33 would have on the PRNMP. Route 33 would run between the park and a significant historical area, the Little Sugar Creek Battlefield, which the PRNMP wants to add to the park.
AEP’s corporate mission statement includes values such as “justice and fairness, doing the right thing at the right time, every time.” Another value stated is citizenship, “developing a sense of community among all those they encounter.” Stowe said it would be better citizenship to support the expansion of PRNMP rather than battle for its destruction.
The letter from Michael T. Regions, regional director of the NPS, said the NPS believes that the AEP/SWEPCO Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and its process for evaluating impacts fails to adequately consider the national significance of a federally designated unit of the NPS that has been preserved for future generations of Americans to enjoy.
“Members of Save The Ozarks have been saying similar things about the faulty EIS for months,” Stowe said. “It was obvious from day one that AEP/SWEPCO submitted a boiler plate EIS instead of an analysis and planned to get away with it. Without the opposition of concerned citizens of Northwest Arkansas, the hearing would be over and AEP/SWEPCO would be chopping away at Arkansas forests.”
The NPS disagrees with AEP/SWEPCO’s statement in a June 10, 2013, letter, that Route 33 will “not traverse the planned additions to the park.”
“The construction of such a large transmission line along either Routes 33 or 62 would degrade critical battlefield lands outside the park that were identified in the 2006 General Management Plan (GMP) for a possible boundary adjustment,” the letter from Regions states. “The presence of a large transmission line within these historically significant lands would create a physical scenic barrier between the main battlefield within the Park and the ‘Detached Area’ of the park intended to protect a portion of the Union trenches related to the battle.”
In other words, the power line would permanently stand as a barrier between two parts of the battlefield.
The NPS said the APSC has seven factors for considering transmission line applications. According to SWEPCO’s June 10 letter, the park and other historic areas were considered under both the environmental criterion and in the man-made uses criterion. There is no explanation, however, as to why the park and other historic properties were not also considered under the “Aesthetic Displeasure” criterion.
The letter states the NPS has contacted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) regarding the project’s need for compliance with Section 106 under the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), as amended. “Specifically, we are working with them to understand the permit areas that the USACE will consider for the six routes, and the potential permits the USACE may be issuing under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act,” Regions said. “Based on our initial review of the proposed routes, it appears that all routes will impact waters of the United States and require a permit from the USACE. The issuance of these permits by the USACE is considered a ‘federal undertaking’ under NHPA and would require the responsible party to take into account effects of the proposed actions on historic properties. We will be working closely with the USACE regarding its determination on the Area of Potential Effect for NHPA Section 106 compliance, which should include the entire area that will be directly and indirectly affected by the proposed undertaking.”
Regions said the park is an iconic, federally-designated Civil War battlefield that warrants careful consideration. The 4,300-acre park is one of the more important and best-preserved Civil War battlefields in the U.S. and attracts visitors from all across the country and around the world. The park commemorates the site of the March 1862 battle that resulted in Missouri staying under Union control. Nearly 26,000 soldiers fought in the battle, with more than 1,000 Union casualties and 2,000 Confederate casualties.
Regions said that park is important for cultural tourism, receiving about 132,000 visitors annually with $6.1 million in spending supporting 96 jobs. “These economic benefits could be diminished if inappropriately sited transmission lines were built adjacent to the park boundary and across this largely intact historic landscape,” he said.
Other objections include:
- NPS policy calls for protecting park scenery and avoiding impairment.
- Segments of Routes 33 and 62 cross the Potential National Register Boundary for the Pea Ridge Battlefield that has been identified by the American Battlefield Protection Program.
- Multiple routes could impact the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, which is absent from the EIS. The Trail was designated by Congress in 1987 and commemorates the relocation of the Cherokee people from their homeland in the southeastern United States to the Indian Territory in present day Oklahoma.
The letter states that the AEP/SWEPCO and Burns & McDonnell’s analysis and EIS should have included a full analysis of potential impacts to the park. “This oversight is extremely concerning to the NPS,” Regions said. “Enjoying views of a historic landscape is centra1 to understanding the context for the battle that took place. At the park, the panoramic views from east and west overlooks face south and encompass most of the actual battlefield and lands to the south of the current U.S. highway 62. A transmission line along either Route 33 or 62 would likely be visible well above the tree canopy just outside the park boundary, adding a clearly modern linear intrusion into the current relatively pristine view from those overlooks, a jarring disruption to that historic scene. Visitors to the Park Visitor Center would also likely be able to view the transmission line built nearby. This impact would likely create an ‘aesthetic displeasure’ for many park visitors.
“The SWEPCO’s EIS section 3.3.4 Visual Character neglects to mention any viewshed concerns which would likely impact the integrity of the park. In fact, the section states that ‘there are no designated scenic areas or view sheds in the study area.’ We consider this a major oversight that fails to consider the importance of one of the country’s most intact Civil War-era landscapes that is only partially protected within the park.”
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