Two-Hawks has plenty to say about proposal, energy use

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Native American musician John Two Hawks urged area residents on Wednesday to stand against the proposed construction of a 345 kV power line across Northwest Arkansas -- even if doing so meant lying down in front of a bulldozer.

The construction, proposed last month by investor-owned Southwestern Electric Power Company, is currently awaiting approval from the Arkansas Public Service Commission.

If SWEPCO were to have its way, a 48-mile-long, 150-foot wide swath of land would be cleared to make way for the lines, which would connect the Shipe Road station, under construction in Benton County, with another station, to be built off Highway 143, northwest of Berryville.

The company has said the construction is necessary to meet the increasing need for power in the region. Opponents of the proposal dispute this and have raised concerns about the effect the project might have on local ecosystems, the economy, and public health. On Wednesday, Two Hawks reiterated many of these concerns.

"We have to do something," he said. "We can't just sit idly by and watch these things happen."

The Grammy Award-winning musician's remarks came during a community meeting and panel discussion at the Aud, in Eureka Springs.

Two Hawks told the audience of about 20 people that he normally steered clear of public debates, but that this issue simply hit too close to home.

The musician moved to Northwest Arkansas some 20 years ago, he said, after visiting and being captivated by the pristine beauty of the Ozarks.

"You could see the bottoms of the rivers," he said. "Where I lived there was no such thing."

Two Hawks was one of five panelists who spoke at the event, which was billed as an "independent" affair -- not sponsored, as past meetings had been, by the non-profit and stridently anti-SWEPCO Save the Ozarks organization.

The other panelists at Wednesday's meeting were local photographer Edward Robison; activist Luis Contreras; retired firefighter Rick Bost; and Crystal Ursin, of the ECHO health clinic.

Contreras, who served as the emcee, said SWEPCO spokesman Peter Main had also been invited -- A piece of paper bearing Main's name sat before an empty chair at the panelists' table.

Motioning toward this empty chair, Two Hawks said, "(Main) likes to think what their company stands for is progress." -- But progress, he said, is a "mixed bag."

As an example, Two Hawks cited the increasing use of wind turbines as an alternative energy source. Despite the technology's promise, he said, it also has drawbacks. For example, researchers are now discovering that the turbines kill migratory birds and bats in droves -- In other words, it's a mixed bag.

"There's always an issue with how we move forward," Two Hawks said, "so we have to step cautiously."

In this case, he said, he did not feel the benefits were worth the risks. In justifying the need for the power lines, SWEPCO has relied on the results of a study completed in 2007.

Opponents of the project have argued that the economic downturn of 2008 undermined these results -- and the rationale for building the transmission line. There is, in fact, no urgent need for more power, they say -- an argument that Two Hawks reiterated on Wednesday. And then there is what could be lost.

Two Hawks recounted how, when he was a child, his grandfather told him of the primeval North American forest. Four hundred years ago, he said, an especially determined and wander-lusty squirrel could travel from the Atlantic Seaboard to the Mississippi River without ever touching dirt. Today, most of that forest is gone.

"Tree by tree," he said, "bit by bit, mile by mile, acre by acre, those trees were felled. Most of the time, for what? Progress ...

"These kinds of things are the beginning. You go forward 400 years, and what (will be) left? It's what is left of that primeval forest."

He urged the audience to stand against such a scenario.

"Somebody might have to lay down in front of a bulldozer," he warned them. "We'll try this gentle, soft approach, and we'll see how it goes. Hopefully, it works ... If that doesn't work, well, we'll see."

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