Eureka health-care groups speak out against SWEPCO

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Local health-care providers have joined the ranks of those opposed to the planned construction of a 345 kV transmission line across Northwest Arkansas.

The project, proposed by investor-owned Southwestern Electric Power Company, is currently pending before the Arkansas Public Service Commission.

If the company has its way, a 48-mile-long line would be constructed between the Shipe Road station, currently being built in Benton County, and another, yet-to-be-constructed station off Highway 143, northwest of Berryville.

Six possible routes have been proposed for the lines -- all of them traversing parts of Carroll County -- with one preferred by SWEPCO.

In its application to the PSC, the company argued the construction was necessary to meet increasing demand in the region, as determined in a 2007 study. However, in the month since that application was filed, the proposal has attracted a flood of protest.

In recent weeks, both Eureka Springs Hospital and Eureka Christian Health Outreach, Inc. have filed formal objections to the project with the PSC.

The ECHO Board of Directors voted unanimously on April 30 to oppose the plan. In a letter later submitted to the PSC, Medical Director Dan Bell wrote that board members had done so out of concern for the health of area residents, the environment, and the local tourist economy.

He added that the board saw no "clear need" for additional transmission capacity in the area, and that other technologies, such as underground lines, were feasible alternatives.

Chris Bariola, CEO of Eureka Springs Hospital, voiced similar concerns in a May 13 letter to commissioners.

"We are deeply concerned with the potential health and economic effects of the proposed high voltage lines SWEPCO intends to erect across the region," he wrote. "These proposed lines fall near homes, businesses, and tourist attractions that provide the majority of the income in this area."

He also addressed the potential health effects of the proposed lines on area residents.

"Scientific evidence indicates that children under the age of 15 living within 0.6 miles of a high transmission line have twice the risk of developing leukemia," he wrote. "Pesticides used under the lines are a threat to the watershed, as well, considering the proximity to Beaver Lake and the White River."

"Further," Bariola wrote, "we feel that the need for these lines is based on population growth studies which are no longer relevant due to economic changes within the community," referring to the economic downturn that began in 2008, the year after the cited studies.

The hospital and ECHO are among several thousand individuals, organizations, and governmental bodies to have submitted feedback on SWEPCO's proposal to the PSC.

The Eureka Springs City Council and the town of Beaver have both passed resolutions opposing the project. This Friday, the Carroll County Quorum Court will consider doing the same.

The court will assemble at 10 a.m. on May 17 at the County Courthouse, located at 210 West Church Ave. in Berryville. Members of the public will be given the opportunity to speak early in the meeting, with each speaker restricted to three minutes.

To view the feedback submitted to the PSC thus far -- or submit your own comments-- visit www.apscservices.info/EFilings/ReceivedFilings/Received.asp?CaseNumber=13-041-U.

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