Public turns out en masse for SWEPCO meeting; second meeting scheduled for today, April 18
Save The Ozarks will host its second public meeting on Thursday, April 18, at 6 p.m., at The Auditorium located at 32 S. Main St. in Eureka Springs to discuss SWEPCO's proposed 345 kV transmission line, scheduled to be built from SWEPCO's Shipe Road Station near Centerton, in Benton County, to a proposed Kings River Station northwest of Berryville.
This second meeting follows a huge gathering last Thursday at The Space on Spring Street. A dancehall full of people angry and concerned over their future and their property showed up to protest and find out what they could do to help stop the project.
The meetings are in response to an application filed April 3 by the Southwestern Electric Power Co. with the Arkansas Public Service Commission for a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need. If approved, the CECPN would allow construction of an enormous transmission line, approximately 48 miles in length, between a power station being built in Benton County and one proposed to be built near Berryville. The preferred route goes near Lake Leatherwood Park and across the White River, according to a letter sent to property owners.
SWEPCO has selected six potential routes for the line. Each of the routes traverse Carroll, Benton and/or Madison Counties.
The two routes that come near Leatherwood Park go to the north and south. The south route would put the transmission lines near Leatherwood Creek. Because part of the project is clearing all trees and treating the 150 foot right-of-way with herbicides in perpetuity, some of the most environmentally vulnerable and scenic areas of the Ozarks will be irreparably damaged by the initial construction and by on-going maintenance of the towers, line and right-of-way.
According to information provided by Save the Ozarks, the group behind this meeting, the extra-high voltage line will be suspended on single poles as much as 160 feet tall, spaced at intervals of about 800 feet and erected in the middle of a 150-foot right-of-way. If the PSC approves SWEPCO's plan, the project is inevitable, one route or another.
One meeting organizer, Roger Shepperd, put it like this: "We are not here to argue one route versus another. This divides us and pits us all against one another. From our reading, this line is not necessary or warranted. We seek to deny it altogether. How to stop them? Ground swell resistance. Not just Eureka Springs or Beaver, Berryville or Rogers. We need to reach out and unite all of the affected people so we can stop this."
Errol Severe, whose Aviation Cadet Museum lies near the path of the proposed lines, pointed out the project will also impact several caves in the area which may house endangered species of bats.
"Any avenue we have available, we should take," he said. "I already have power lines going through one side of my property. That's enough."
Local resident Bill King advocated the group coming up with a "Plan B" in case their initial effort doesn't work out. He suggested the possibility of SWEPCO sharing rights-of-way already in place for other utilities.
Others disagreed, arguing their best bet was to halt the project long enough to rally their forces further.
Another organizer, Pat Costner, whose land would also be directly impacted by the power line, stressed the urgency of the situation.
"We are less than three weeks from the PSC's rendering a decision," she said. "We want to seek a 90-day extension, which will give us time to further organize."
The first step in doing so, said organizers, was to seek politically connected legal counsel that understands the issues involved. Legal counsel is required to approach the PSC at all.
According to its Facebook page, as of Wednesday, Save the Ozarks has retained legal counsel to represent the organization and to help take appropriate steps for an extension of the looming deadline.
The group is also being advised by Richard Klein of the Community & Environmental Defense Services, an organization that has assisted other communities faced with transmission lines and similar encroachments on their economic and environmental well-being throughout the United States.
One point of contention is the fact not all landowners have been notified of the upcoming construction, though this step is legally required.
"Much of the information we've received from SWEPCO through the Freedom of Information Act is erroneous," Costner said. "It's based on data from 2007, which means it was actually gathered even earlier than that. The projected need is not really there, now. We don't want to see this land raped and taken apart."
Local attorney Kristine Kendrick said she had called the tax assessor and made another unpleasant discovery.
"The state does not tax right-of-ways," she said. "While this means anyone whose land is directly affected will see their taxes go down slightly, the fact the county will lose that tax revenue to pay for county services means they will ultimately have to raise the millage to make up the difference, and that means everybody will pay more."
Donations to help defray the costs of these legal fees can be mailed to:
Save The Ozarks
PO Box 142
Eureka Springs, AR 72632
Donations can also be deposited in person at any of the Community First Banks.
Going to Stoplines.com takes you directly to a comment page for the PSC, and organizers have set up a Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Save-The-Ozarks/640701859289555. The group's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.