Thursday, September 12, 2013
“If truth and facts count, we won it hands down,” said Save The Ozarks (STO) Director Pat Costner at a meeting held at the Aud Sept. 6 where people who attended the Arkansas Public Service Commission (APSC) hearing in Little Rock Aug. 26-30 gave a recap of the high points – and the most disappointing parts – of the hearing regarding American Electric Power (AEP)/Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO)’s application to build a 345-kilovolt (kV) transmission line from Shipe Road in Benton County to near the Kings River north of Berryville.
Costner said truth and facts don’t always carry the day. But even if the APSC approves the project, opponents laid a firm groundwork for an appeal during the hearing. She spoke of the APSC’s approval of a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need (CECPN) for the AEP/SWEPCO’s Turk Coal Plant in Fulton despite a lack of need for the facility. That case was overturned by the Arkansas Court of Appeals and the Arkansas Supreme Court.
AEP/SWEPCO is also applying for a CECPN for the high voltage transmission line that opponents allege would have little benefit to residents of Arkansas, and instead is primarily designed to transport electricity out of state.
“If push comes to shove, there is ample strong case law to support a legal challenge if the APSC rules against us,” Costner said.
She said one of the more important factors revealed is that AEP/SWEPCO failed to include constructability as one of their criteria for selecting routes. She said she recently read about a project in karst terrain where costs tripled from what they would have been in other terrain without the special karst features such as sinkholes, springs and caves. Costner said that means that the proposed $116 million Shipe Road to Kings River Crossing transmission could end up costing customers three times that amount.
Costner encouraged people to talk to everyone they know about the project, and continue to put in letters of opposition to APSC. A link to put in public comments can be found at www.savetheozarks.org.
Mike Bishop, executive director of the Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce, said he was impressed and proud of the efforts put forth by those opposing the high voltage power line as unnecessary and harmful to the environment, property values and the local tourism economy. Bishop said attorneys opposing the project were well prepared and put forth a strong case.
“I don’t think there is any question we proved our case,” Bishop said. “I’m an optimist. I want to believe we have a great chance of this coming out in a positive way.”
Bishop said he had never seen an issue where people in this area were so unified and willing to work to preserve the special environment and way of life of the Ozarks. He also encouraged people to continue to send in comments to the APSC opposing the project.
“It’s not over yet,” he said.
Doug Stowe, who has continued to oppose all routes even though the route through his property just north of Eureka Springs has been removed from consideration, said when this issue started there were a lot of skeptics who said, “you can’t fight this.” Stowe said the community came together to form STO, and stuck together in defense of the community.
“None of this could have happened without Pat Costner,” Stowe said. “Pat and the legal team she assembled operated in a seamless manner. SWEPCO was just completely outclassed. STO’s attorney Mick Harrison took their witnesses apart one by one. It was absolutely an amazing thing to watch.”
Stowe said he thinks SWEPCO was unprepared to be so closely challenged on issues such as an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that failed to address economic impact to the area and many other important factors.
“We are far more powerful than they ever thought we could be,” Stowe said.
Jeff Danos, who represented himself and his wife, Christina, as intervenors said he initially wasn’t very optimistic, and thought perhaps the outcome had already been fixed. But he said AEP/SWEPCO was unprepared for what opponents brought to the table, and by the end of the week he was confident those opponents had done a fantastic job at establishing a case for denial of the project.
“They were sloppy with their application,” Danos said. “Mick Harrison was persistent and asked specific questions that exposed deficiencies in their application and EIS. Although SWEPCO is ‘the bad guy’ here, I still felt sorry for their witnesses.”
Danos said the cross examination showed many of the witnesses for AEP/SWEPCO didn’t prepare the information in their testimony themselves and were ill prepared to defend the information in the studies.
The highlight of the week for Danos was recognizing that he and others who were not experts at power planning and transmission lines could look at applicable laws and see they had not been followed.
Danos said AEP/SWEPCO apparently realized at the end of the hearing that opponents had exposed a number of mistakes, and that AEP/SWEPCO attorney Matthews acknowledged those deficiencies by asking the administrative law judge if they could supplement their application. “We hope that isn’t allowed,” Danos said.
The hearing revealed that the application is part of a much larger regional plan that will affect other areas of Arkansas. “If we win, our case will help those who will fight some of these other planned projects,” Danos said. “We all banded together and as a result, I think SWEPCO is going to have to change the way they do business.”
Michael Shah, an STO supporter, lauded the legal team put together for STO.
“It is unbelievable the quality of the attorneys Pat found for us,” he said. “We got the right crew. This is not an emotional thing. This is a fairness thing. We don’t need the power.”
His wife, Faith Shah, said a low point of the hearing for her was hearing people who don’t live here and some who have never spent time here claim that there would be no adverse impacts to the environment, the beauty of the area or the economy.
Photographer Richard Quick said part of the reason he took time to attend that hearing was to show that the people impacted are human beings. “I tried to make it human for them to see this is land we love and care about, and don’t intend to let go of easily,” Quick said.
Quick found the low point the fact that STO’s expert witnesses were not cross-examined by AEP/SWEPCO or other proponents of the project. He said while he knows the written testimony of STO experts goes into the transcript, that is different than hearing the important issues discussed during the hearing.
Garfield attorney Lori Bennett said it was clear the AEP/SWEPCO witnesses didn’t do their homework.
“You stood up and opposed evil,” she said. “Evil is what they are trying to do.”
Eureka Springs alderman James DeVito said the low point for him was seeing other intervenors like Wal-Mart cut deals to move the line, and the high point was the riveting cross-examination by Harrison. He said that cross examination showed that AEP/SWEPCO was shoddy and unprepared, and likened their EIS to a high school student taking a term paper off the Internet.
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