Friday, December 06, 2013
The National Park Service (NPS) sent a letter to the Arkansas Public Service Commission (APSC) Dec. 3 strenuously disagrees with the staff’s conclusion that NPS concerns about the American Electric Power/Southwest Electric Power Company (AEP/SWEPCO) Shipes Road to Kings River power line proposal have been addressed, and that the project would have no significant impact on the Pea Ridge National Military Park and the Trail of Tears.
“The NPS additionally requests that the APSC take no action on selecting a route due to insufficient historical resources information from which to base a decision,” stated the letter from NPS Regional Director Michael T. Reynolds. “We believe that SWEPCO should be required to amend their environmental review with the important information that was referred to in our letters, which we believe would aid the APSC’s decision-making process, and that the APSC take no action until Section 106 consultation, which is required under the National Preservation Act (NHPA), is initiated.”
The NPS asked that the APSC "take no action on selecting a route due to insufficient historical resource information from which to base a decision" It also demanded that "SWEPCO be required to append their environmental review" with the important information that had been ignored throughout the application process concerning the Trail of Tears and the National Military Park at Pea Ridge. In addition, they asked that the APSC take no action until a "Section 106 consultation under the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) is initiated."
The NPS said that it was “deeply troubled” that the required section 106 consultation has not been undertaken by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Section 106 consultation is meant to be conducted early in the undertaking’s planning so a broad range of alternatives could be considered for the Corps of Engineers property. That means the project can be considered a federal undertaking under the NHPA, and that the USACE must now take into account effects of the proposed actions on historic properties.
“Accordingly, Section 106 consultation should be undertaken immediately and before any decision is made by the APSC regarding the section of a route,” the NPS said.
The letter said the NPS worries that the failure to do the consultation, combined with the insufficiency of SWEPCO’s environmental review prepared for the APSC, fails to provide the APSC with a reasonable baseline of information for this project’s impacts on historic properties, especially from Route 33, the preferred route indentified by SWEPCO. The NPS said SWEPCO should append the environmental review so it adequately considers historic resources.
“As stated in our August 2013 letter, the National Trail is crossed by all six routes, but was neither mentioned nor considered in the SWEPCO’s Reviews,” the letter said.
The NPS strongly disagreed with the APSC’s conclusion that: “All the questions and issues raised by the state and federal agencies have been appropriately addressed by SWEPCO.”
“For instance, the SWEPCO has not yet explained why the National Park was left outside of the 500-foot wide study area for powerline segments described in its environmental review,” the NPS said. “…the EIS should have included a full analysis of potential impacts to the park. This oversight is extremely concerning to the NPS.”
The NPS said another issue that has not been addressed is why the National Park was excluded from consideration under the “Aesthetic Displeasure” criterion for the SWEPCO’s Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need (CECPN) application submitted to the Commission.
Copies of the letter were sent to about 20 groups including the Cherokee National of Oklahoma, the Osage Nation, the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, historic preservation groups, state officials such as Gov. Mike Beebe and Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, and U.S. Sen. John Boozman and Sen. Mark Pryor.
“We all knew that AEP/SWEPCO's environmental impact statement was deeply flawed and that their proposal was far out of touch from the needs of Northwest Arkansas residents,” said Doug Stowe, a member of the Save the Ozarks Board of Directors. “The National Park Service and Department of the Interior agree. To propose such careless devastation to a historic Civil War battlefield was irresponsible, and we are pleased to have the NPS confirming what we've known all along.”
There is also a new letter on the issue of the power line permitting from the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation (ACHP) that is asking the Army Corp of Engineers about section 106 review. According to an ACHP Citizen Guide,
“A federal agency must conclude Section 106 review before making a decision to approve a project, or fund or issue a permit that may affect a historic property. Agencies should not make obligations or take other actions that would preclude consideration of the full range of alternatives to avoid or minimize harm to historic properties before Section 106 review is complete.
"If the agency acts without properly completing Section 106 review, the ACHP can issue a finding that the agency has prevented meaningful review of the project. This means that, in the ACHP’s opinion, the agency has failed to comply with Section 106 and therefore has not met the requirements of federal law. A vigilant public helps ensure federal agencies comply fully with Section 106. In response to requests, the ACHP can investigate questionable actions and advise agencies to take corrective action. As a last resort, preservation groups or individuals can litigate in order to enforce Section 106.”
Stowe said if the Corps does its duty in the proposed Section 106 review--which it most certainly will--route 33 is dead in the water.
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