City Council discusses SWEPCO plans, sewage backup

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Eureka Springs City Council on Monday spent some time discussing the rights-of-way for the proposed SWEPCO transmission lines, and also discussed Sherwood Court's and the city's sewer problem.

The council decided that Alderman James Devito will work along with City Attorney Tim Weaver on a resolution officially opposing the proposed routes for the SWEPCO power lines that will affect the Eureka Springs area.

The council decided to postpone discussion of the sewage problems until the next meeting so that more research and information could be brought to light before they act.

Multiple residents voiced their concerns about the obtrusive and destructive consequences of the new 354 kV transmission line that SWEPCO plans to run across the western portion of the county to a proposed new station along the Kings River.

"We have three lines coming into Eureka now that supply up to 260 MW (megawatts); the (proposed) single-circuit line would supply 400 MW," said Doug Stowe, a resident of Eureka Springs. "It is also scheduled to upgrade to 800 MW by adding a second circuit. ... This line really isn't here to serve our community at all. It is to carry power past us."

Stowe compared the proposed line to the 345 kV line Maine uses to carry power to Canada and said the proposed line is a "interstate highway of electricity" and that both lines are designed to "carry large amounts of electricity over great distances."

Patricia Helwig, a geologist who lives in Eureka Springs, pleaded with the council to realize the damages the new line would cause to land and property values.

"The corridor is half the length of a football field, the towers (will be at least) 150 feet tall, and herbicides will be applied to the corridor forever," Helwig said. "It has been proven that real estate values near transmission lines fall at least 25 percent. ... In conclusion, when the properties lose their value we will get less tax revenue. What are we going to then to support our schools, emergency services and infrastructure?"

The corridor Helwig mentions refers to the 150 feet of land SWEPCO must clear around the lines to place the required 160-foot-tall towers every 800 feet along the lines; this section of land and towers will require regular maintenance that includes the use of herbicides to keep vegetation at bay.

The scope of the transmission line was misrepresented by SWEPCO, said Alderperson James Devito. He applauded the community for being proactive and quickly voicing their concerns about the proposed lines, and he continued stating his concerns about the damage to the beautiful landscape of the region -- and thus the damage to tourism revenue for the city.

Other members of the council seconded his views.

"I wholeheartedly agree with everything Councilman Devito said. ... I for one was appalled. I am still not over the cell tower; every time I look at it I get mad, so I can imagine what this is going to be. I think we are almost getting raped," said Alderman David Mithcell.

The council is expected to discuss an official statement of opposition to the power lines at its next meeting.

Sherwood Court and sewage

"Since 2006, we have spent thousands of dollars in an attempt to keep the sewage flowing out of the building, with very little success due to the fact that the city's main sewage lines are filed with roots and debris," wrote Brian and Lil Hostick in a letter to the council that was read at the meeting. "This is very much a public health hazard, and we feel the city is negligent in that it has not satisfactorily remedied this issue and continues to attempt to place blame on various homeowners in the area for problems caused by city lines."

The Hosticks are the owners and operators of Sherwood Court Inn.

The problem is caused by the roots breaking into the old clay tile joints of the lines to find nutrients; the clay joints need to be replaced with PVC, Alderman Dee Purkeypile said.

To remedy the situation, the city needs to run a camera through the lines, find the backup, dig it up and replace the line, but funding is limited, said Public Works Director Dwayne Allen. This problem has re-occurred four times in the last five years and will cost upwards of $1,500 dollars to fix, and will cost more if Public Works hires a contractor.

Public Works has tried setting barriers for the roots, and if it was just one tree causing the backup, then they could remove the tree. But it is several trees' roots that back up the system, so simple tree removal is not an option, Allen said.

"To guarantee there will not be another sewage backup on the grounds is impossible, but we strive to keep that from happening," Allen said. "This is just one of those things we have to constantly monitor and stay on top of; we have to identify our problems and move on."

The discussion of how exactly to address the sewer problem was postponed until the next meeting so that Purkeypile and Allen could do more research to find a resolution and the costs associated with it -- but not whether the city was liable for the damages of Sherwood Court.

"We need to spend some effort and some money on this problem area, and we are the ones on City Council who direct where the money goes," Purkeypile said. "Apparently, we don't have any money, so at this point in time, we are leaving this issue on the table until Dwayne and I can get together."

Other Business

In other actions, members of the City Council have said the date for the workshop to prepare for the next town hall meeting will be announced later, as will the date for a workshop on the demolition by neglect proposal.

An ordinance that would increase the mayor's pay was taken off the agenda, and discussion to raise council members' salaries was postponed until November. Discussion of the limousine ordinance was postponed as was discussion for taxis or "jumbo cabs."

The Planning Commission membership ordinance was passed on its third reading. The ordinance allows no more than two members of the city Planning Commission to hold office or appointment with another department of the city.

The members of the council also heard the first reading of the ordinance regarding the city's parking lot regulations. The ordinance's purpose is to clarify the regulations for parking meters in the city's paid parking areas; it will come up for second reading at council's next meeting.

Also discussed was the city's ordinance dealing with weekly lodging rentals for businesses. This issue was tabled until next meeting.

Finally, the council voted to place bike racks in the downtown area. The mayor has decided that future locations for the racks will be the Post Office and City Hall.

The council also passed Resolution 617 to allow a SWEPCO repairman to have an office in the unused space of the basement of the Public Works building, so that the city would have a local repairman available in case a need for one arises.

In his closing remarks, the mayor said that his thoughts and prayers are with the good people of Boston and Texas for the recent losses they have suffered. He also offered his kudos to all those involved in the recent woodcarving festival the city hosted.

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