Thursday, October 03, 2013
The American Electric Power (AEP)/Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO) application for a $118 million high-voltage power line has generated about 6,000 public comments, nearly all opposed to the project. Transcripts from the Arkansas Public Service Commission (APSC) public hearings in Eureka Springs and Rogers totaled 1,166 pages – again with nearly all citizens opposing the 50-mile-long Shipe Road to Kings River power line.
The public comments appeared to have no impact on the staff of the APSC. In a legal brief filed Oct. 1, ASPC staff recommends that AEP/SWEPCO be given a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need (CECPN) for the project that would require a 150-foot-right of way for steel power poles that would tower 150-160 feet, running through some of the more scenic areas of the Ozarks.
“SWEPCO’s CECPN Application filed on April 3, 2013, with supporting witnesses’ testimonies and exhibits, meets the filing requirements of the CECPN law,” the APSC staff states. “The evidence in this record satisfies the conditions that the commission must find in Ark. Code Ann. § 23-18-519 in order to approve SWEPCO’s application for a CECPN. The basis of the need for the facility has been established in the record.”
Doug Stowe, who is on the board of directors of Save the Ozarks (STO), said he was neither surprised nor unduly alarmed by the staff’s recommendations.
“The APSC staff has been quite clear from the beginning,” Stowe said. “A number of them honestly admitted during the public hearing that they are in favor of the project, and they see it as being their role to facilitate applications from power companies, not deny them.” Stowe said what is coming to the APSC and what is needed is a sea change.
“That level of change is never welcomed with open arms,” he said. “And we have to fight for it. What you did not see in the APSC brief was any discussion of Arkansas law. Their brief was nothing more than a checklist of their everyday regulatory routine. But there are aspects of state law they have routinely ignored in other cases and that the STO and Danos briefs have made clear. I am confident that we will prevail.”
The APSC staff filing makes the following conclusions:
- Considering all factors presented, the proposed facility sites are reasonable locations for the facilities and represent a reasonable choice for meeting AEP/SWEPCO’s and Southern Power Pool’s reliability needs.
- Based on the above findings of fact, the approval of AEP/SWEPCO’s CECPN application to build the proposed Route 33 and Kings River Station will serve the public interest, convenience, and necessity.
- Given its acceptable adverse environmental impact, the proposed facilities are a reasonable resource to meet the company’s demonstrated need for reliable electrical service.
“The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and other evidence in the Record demonstrated the nature of the probable environmental impact and of the proposed routes and the Kings River Station and that the facilities represent an acceptable adverse environmental impact, consideration of the state of available technology, the requirements of the customers of the applicant for utility service, the nature and economics of the proposal, any state or federal permit for the environmental impact, and the various alternatives, if any, and other pertinent considerations,” the filing states.
The staff said all questions and issues raised by the state and federal agencies have been appropriately addressed by AEP/SWEPCO.
The following objections were filed by state and federal agencies:
- The Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism indicated concern regarding the impact of Route 91 on tourism; impact to boundaries of the City Trail development and Lake Leatherwood Sports Complex and visual impact to both; and negative effects to the Devil’s Eyebrow Natural Area.
- The Department of Arkansas Heritage indicated that the cultural resources background research was inadequate; that the EIS ignores all but direct impacts; that the EIS does not address the amount of forest clearing and resulting forest fragmentation; and that it disagreed with the number of archeological sites which would be impacted. DAH listed each route and specifically listed its concerns for that route. It concluded that Route 109 would have the least adverse impact on historic properties and strongly recommended against the preferred Route 33.
- The National Park Service expressed concerns regarding impact to the Pea Ridge National Military Park.
- The U.S. Department of the Interior’s public comment letter provided additional information regarding endangered and protected species within the area of the proposed projects. It indicated, among other things, that activities within 660 ft. of a bald eagle nest require a permit, and that Route 109 either avoid recharge areas for two caves known to support the federally listed endangered cave crayfish, or where avoidance was not possible, strict adherence to BMPs for “erosion and sediment control” and “construction in sensitive areas” be maintained.
- The Department of the Army’s letter, filed on July 17, 2013, indicated that it preferred Routes 33, 108, or 109, but would not make available land for crossing Beaver Lake for routes 62, 86, or 91. Subsequently, a motion to remove routes 62, 86, and 91 from the list of considered routes was filed by the Reinsvold Intervenors on August 7, 2013. The Administrative Law Judge granted the Reinsvolds’ Motion on August 12, 2013 (Order No. 20), leaving Routes 33, 109, and 108 for consideration by the commission.
The filing also stated that numerous intervenors, as well as public commenters, alleged that impacts from electric and magnetic fields would have a negative impact on the personal health and safety of those in proximity to the proposed electric facility, but provided no expert testimony to support their position.
“While it is recognized that there is widespread public apprehension across the United States about possible serious deleterious human health effects from the electromagnetic fields (EMF) emitted from such power lines, the vast majority of the scientific studies to date simply do not support these fears,” the filing said. “There was no hard evidence presented at this hearing by the parties themselves to support this concern.”
The filing also said that STO alleged that the EIS did not meet the standards for practice for a visual impact assessment. “However, STO did not provide support that a visual impact assessment was required under Arkansas law. SWEPCO extensively addressed the visual impacts of the Proposed Electric Facility and satisfied the requirements of the EIS,” the filing said.
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