HISID says No to high lines
Becky Gillette

The Holiday Island Suburban Improvement District (HISID) Board of Commissioners has added its name to the growing chorus of entities opposed to SWEPCO’s proposed high voltage power lines. HISID voted unanimously Monday to have their district manager send a letter to the Arkansas Public Service Commission (APSC) opposing plans by SWEPCO to run a 345 kilovolt (kV) power line through Carroll County.

Making the motion was HISID commissioner Ken Brown, who cited problems with democratic governance of Carroll Electric Cooperation Corp. (CECC) as evidence of weak utility regulation in the state.

“Arkansas has one of the strongest Freedom of Information Acts in the country,” Brown said. “And it seems to me also Arkansas has some of the weakest governing rules of electric utilities.”

Brown spoke about a member of the CECC gathering more than a thousand of signatures to run for election, and not being allowed on the ballot in 2011. Instead, only the candidate handpicked by the CECC board was allowed to run. “And now we come to SWEPCO wanting to build a power line through Carroll County,” he said.

Brown said one of his colleagues said the purchase of land by SWEPCO for the Kings River Station near Berryville showed that this is a “done deal.” Brown said they paid four times the going rate for the land. SWEPCO purchased 38.6 acres on Hwy. 143 early this year for $600,000, or $15,544 per acre, when pasture land normally sells for $2,500 to $4,000 per acre.

“Why did they buy the land before the Public Service Commission approved the power lines?” Brown said. “I guess they feel it can be done no matter what.”

The lines don’t cross Holiday Island’s boundaries, but Brown said looking at 150-ft. tall power poles on the way to Holiday Island could have a chilling effect on people’s interest in buying there. He added that people who buy in Holiday Island are very fond of Eureka Springs.

“We like Eureka Springs,” Brown said. “We want to help them and the whole area. I want the board to write a letter to the Public Service Commission in opposition to the line going through. I don’t think we need it. Experts in electric power say we don’t need it. Industry in our area doesn’t create enough demand for that type of power transmission in this area.”

The HISID vote came after the board heard from Pat Costner, a founding member of Save the Ozarks, a citizen group formed to oppose the lines. Costner’s 135 acres north of Eureka Springs is in the path of four of SWEPCO’s proposed six alternatives. 

“Tourism is the second largest industry in Arkansas, and much of the tourism revenue is generated in Northwest Arkansas,” Costner said. “People come to see its natural beauty. Construction of this power line involves clear cutting a 150-foot corridor, which is the width of a football field, and drilling bore holes seven to ten feet in diameter that are 30 to 40 feet deep. What will that do to the terrain here, not just surface, but subsurface? It will destroy streams and it will destroy caves underneath the holes.”

Commissioner Bruce Larson asked if other routes would be as objectionable, and then answered that question stating he spent many years working in power supply services and could tell you that no one will want the line in their neighborhood. “I’m in favor of supporting the community,” Larson said.

Update to treatment plant OK’d

The HISID board also passed an emergency resolution to seek funding and move ahead to make improvements to the wastewater treatment plant by building a new facility for drying sewage sludge prior to its disposal in a landfill. Dan Schrader, water and wastewater superintendent for HISID, said currently the district is falling behind more each week on drying the sludge outdoors.

Jeff E. Richards, P.E., McGoodwin, Williams & Yates, Inc. said facilities for drying the sludge were removed from a 2007 sewage plant renovation because the costs of the entire project exceeded the $4.7 million cap on sewage improvements needed to meet phosphorus limits in discharged wastewater.

“There wasn’t enough money to finance everything,” Richards said. 

The board heard a presentation outlining alternatives for drying the sludge before proceeding to approve a resolution to proceed with engineering plans, financing arrangements and regulatory applications for a $537,000 project including new building for drying sludge inside with belt filter equipment. With a loan available at three percent, costs are estimated at  $35,900 per year.

Commissioner Linda Groves asked if the current lawsuit challenging the legality of HISID’s methods of accessing fees to pay for operation of the district could impact financing. Richards asked, “Are you paying your bills on time? Do you intend to continue to pay your bills on time?” He said it was an issue that could come up, but could be dealt with.

The HISID board also heard from Bill Brown, a former commissioner reporting for the Solution Committee that is looking into ideas to help with the lawsuit. Brown said alternatives could include levying a tax if the lawsuit concludes the collection of assessments is illegal. Other alternatives include incorporating as a city or changing state law so the way HISID operates is legal.

New contract with CCSO

The HISID board also approved a new contract for law enforcement services provided by the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office for a full-time deputy. Previously HISID had a contract for two deputies at a cost of $83,000 per year. The offer for the extension is one deputy for $62,000 with Sheriff Bob Grudek stating the difference was in the past the cost was just for salaries – not the cost of the patrol car.

“The vehicle is very expensive,” Grudek said.

The board approved the contract and also offered the deputy a $250 per month housing allowance if he decides to live in Holiday Island.

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