Hundreds attend APSC public hearings, Carroll County residents unite to send resounding 'no' to SWEPCO
Hundreds of area residents turned out Monday and Tuesday to attend and voice their opinions at the Arkansas Public Service Commission's public hearings on SWEPCO's proposed giant transmission line across the county.
Officials said 327 residents signed up to speak at the hearings.
Southwestern Electric Power Co. has applied for permission to built a 345,000-volt electric transmission line from their Shipe Road Station in Benton County, headed eastward for 48 miles through western Carroll County, passing very near Eureka Springs before coming to a proposed new substation to be built directly on the banks of the Kings River near Berryville, north of Highway 62.
SWEPCO's application, which was first reported in early April as potentially affected landowners in the area began to receive notification letters, is under review by the Arkansas Public Service Commission, which will likely decide whether SWEPCO may proceed, and which route it must use, sometime late this year or early next.
The three-member commission will base its decision on the recommendation of Administrative Law Judge Connie Griffin, who oversaw this week's hearings in Eureka Springs. They are continuing today in Rogers.
Griffin and others noted at Monday's hearing session that it is highly unusual for the APSC to conduct public comment hearings anywhere outside of its Little Rock offices, and officials said that part of the reason the APSC decided to hold hearings here was the volume of the public outcry about the project. More than 5,000 individuals have filed on APSC's website their official comments on the SWEPCO proposal, and almost every single one of them opposes the power-line plan.
The air was thick with emotion Monday and Tuesday as 229 local residents took their allowed 3 minutes apiece to tell a judge why they believe SWEPCO's plan is wrong for Northwest Arkansas and specifically for Carroll County. There was not enough time for the remaining 98 people on the sign-up sheet to speak, but they and others are welcome to attend the identical hearings being held in Rogers today and Thursday, July 18, officials said.
Of those who spoke at the Eureka hearings, almost all opposed the entire project; very few residents drew any differences between the routes and the potential environmental and economic damage they will cause, nor did any single speaker say they preferred one route over another. Indeed, the overwhelming question of the day was not "Which route should be chosen for the new SWEPCO lines," but instead, it was "Why should any of them be approved?"
Commenters objected to the power line's potential destructive impact on Eureka Springs' tourist economy; to the environmental damage that is likely to result from the use of herbicides to keep the pathway clear of overgrowth; to the danger to the karst topography that is so prevalent in Carroll County's mountainous terrain, including the many caves and natural springs found throughout the area; to the danger to the county's ground water supply (and to the 6,000 local residents within 7 miles of Eureka Springs who drink from a well); and many other factors.
Some residents argued there is no need here for additional power capacity, since the most recent Census numbers show what is statistically considered zero growth in Carroll County.
Others argued that SWEPCO hadn't followed the rules in the legal notification of landowners process; still others said SWEPCO's Environmental Impact Study was severely lacking in scope and accuracy.
Many residents who spoke talked of their own experience using solar power and questioned why SWEPCO wasn't willing to look at alternatives to the power lines -- especially since the energy company is already doing so in other nearby states.
David Genesou's comments were out of the ordinary: He sang them along to the music of a popular song. The track is available to hear here.
But while the local residents were making their arguments -- many of which were backed by scientific studies and information from recognized experts in the field -- the commenters also told heart-wrenching stories from behind painfully pinched faces as they fought back tears.
One of the most moving speakers of the day was Jeannie Feltman of County Road 115 outside Eureka Springs. She said that from her drive, a short walk from her home, she can see where the power lines would be built under all of the six proposed routes submitted by SWEPCO.
"I'm concerned for my well," Feltman told the administrative law judge presiding over the hearing, Connie Griffin. "Our karst is like Swiss cheese; it's unstable and crumbly and fractious and ... my (well) water is vulnerable to disturbances from quite far away."
Despite a professed penchant for privacy and a tendency to avoid the spotlight, Feltman's words grew clearer and louder as she continued.
"I live here partly because of our rare unspoiled stretch of the White River; I chose to live here because this area has a rare combination of a decent economy and minimal toxic blight like this. You know you usually get one or the other right?" she said.
Since Eureka's economy is largely tourism-based, the question of whether to allow SWEPCO to build its giant power line is much more than just an aesthetic issue, she said.
"You how they say 'No pretty, no eat'? Well, Here we do 'eat pretty,'" Feltman explained. "We're going to lose forever for our kids and grandkids that quality of life that makes this place so special. And they'll be no going back, no going back."
Feltman -- as well as many in the audience -- got choked up as she continued, her voice rising.
"Please don't let this happen. The river won't be worth floating and fishing any more," she said. "I love my neighborhood and I love my neighbors and I don't want to move -- and I can't move. SWEPCO can move. They don't have to do this."
Feltman warned that the project will "kill the river and tourist economy and drive down the value of all our land and homes and the quality of our water."
"Our land has bears and bobcats and eagles and herons and panthers and bats -- I didn't even count the little things you know -- and caves and Indian bluff shelters chock-full of artifacts -- you should come visit and I'll show you some artifacts," Feltman told the judge. "But you just couldn't pick a more inappropriate spot to eviscerate and poison.
"If SWEPCO thinks they've just got to have this dinosaur, they need to pick somewhere that's already ruined," she said, prompting laughs in the audience of about 150 people. "A bunch of us found paradise. This is the end of the line. You'll be gutting one of the last sweet spots between the Appalachians and the Rockies."
Feltman said she "cobbled together" enough panels to live off solar power at her home, and she is "off the grid" and has been for years.
"I've got electricity coming out of my ears. I can't use it all up," she said emphatically. "Every winter I can tell when it goes out in the neighborhood because I can hear George Butler's generator kick on. Mine's never gone out. It's never run short. And it's no maintenance, hardly.
"They wouldn't even have to fix those lines if they'd just leave some solar panels on folks' houses. I paid for my land being a farm laborer. I don't have as much education as them and I ain't that stupid," she finished, as the audience reacted with another round of laughter.
To see video of Feltman's moving speech and of others who spoke at the hearing on Monday, visit the Lovely County Citizen's Facebook page at Facebook.com/LovelyCountyCitizen.
Following are excerpts from the comments given at the public hearings Monday and Tuesday:
(City Council member and 40-year resident)
"You will be hearing an awful lot about why we hate this idea. Every year I say that we have so many visitors and tourists because here you can breathe the air and drink the water. I do not want to have to stop saying that, but if any of these lines go in as proposed, I will have to stop saying that.
If either one of these towns (Eureka or Rogers) gets hurt in their tourism business, this state is in deep doo-doo.
We are a bunch of old hippies we perfected protesting and we won't give up.
We have lots of young 'uns who need to learn the proper way to do it. I'll be the first one to chain myself to a tree and my grandkids will be right next to me.
Uh-uh, this ain't happening here, and SWEPCO has been forewarned."
"Herbicides do hurt people, and the run-off will poison our wells. ... We have had enough tears, and it is a spiritual issue as to how you live with the earth -- do you want to exploit the earth? Is it all about money? When the last tree has been cut down and the fish poisoned and the earth is unplowable, only then will we realize that we can't eat money."
Ethan said he has personal concerns about the proposed transmission lines, which will go by several homes of his friends, and he told the judge he is worried about childhood leukemia.
"And I ask, are you going to leave these problems for my generation to deal with? If so, thanks a lot."
They say a photo is worth a thousand words, and Robinson reminded us why that's true by showing Before and After photos of the landscape that will be affected by the proposed power lines, after he used Photoshop to draw them in according to the stated specifications. The judge, as well as the audience, seemed struck by the imagery.
(former mayor of Eureka)
"SWEPCO used to trim branches and now they trim trees. I helped create a long-term plan to bury utility lines, and then SWEPCO did not do it, so we do not trust SWEPCO. ... This project damages all we hold dear."
George said a lot of his neighbors are off the grid relying solely on solar power, and they have more electricity than they can use -- but the law will not let the government buy it back.
"So there is no necessity for the (additional SWEPCO power lines or capacity), or the government would start to buy (the extra solar-powered electricity) back. I ask the commissioners to take a moment to clear their minds of shareholders and political agendas and imagine the landscape with and without the power lines. (Consider) the economical, physical, environmental, and even spiritual impact on all our lives. We do not need the new transmission line and we do not want it."
"Have they learned any lessons from the past? For the last 600 years, have they learned any lessons? ... Much has been done in good intent but in general nature has been destroyed except for national parks. I don't understand how the lessons have not been learned. How can we give power to these people who want to take the last pristine forest on America and rape it and all the wildlife in it. If we suppose that there is no impact on the economy and wildlife, (we must still) imagine what will be the impact on the vision of the people of this community who want to make a living by not hurting the environment?"
Marshall read comments from a resident of Missouri who is a faculty member at at Missouri university and brings all her students to see Thorncrown Chapel. She says the project does not honor E. Fay Jones nor his beautiful chapel creation.
"You don't draw a mustache on the Mona Lisa and you don't put a bowling alley next to Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water."
Johnson said he opposes the project altogether and lives within eyesight of many of the routes. He noted that it will diminish the value of his property, and he is concerned about living within a mile of the electromagnetic field and the herbicides.
"The damage to the Ozarks will be irreversible. A third of the state's population comes to this part of the Ozarks every year. The state benefits greatly from the tax dollars from the people who come here. The SWEPCO plan is not safe for the economy nor for the people who live here. This is giving our area a black eye. This project is toxic and I ask the Arkansas Public Service Commission to act for the public and work with us to stop SWEPCO."
(Certified arborist and Katrina refugee who moved here after the hurricane destroyed his home)
"Several of the sub-watershed units these routes will cross through are the most heavily forested areas in the county. The reason they are so forested is because many of these landowners wanted to live in a forest. They wanted to live in a community that is full of trees. And I find it horrific that SWEPCO would plot a transmission line that would cut through the heart of this community."
(Former Justice of the Peace, retired Air Force colonel, former chamber board member)
"I love Carroll County, and I know every piece of it. Because I do know Carroll County so well I know that this project will hurt Carroll County and hurt it badly.
This project would dissect my land from one end to the other and depending on where the towers are place could intersect my house. I would like to see this project just go away and be stopped in its entirety. (Here, the audience erupted into applause, which prompted a stern warning from the judge to hold their applause.)
While no rock has been disturbed yet, no cave or spring has been destroyed and no tree has been cut, the damage is being done because six invisible lines are already impacting people's lives, their plans, their future. I would ask that the APSC give us a decision as soon as you can, and when you do decide, if you decide to grant approval, please tell us where it's going (which route) so we can get on with our lives that are all on hold."
MARY JANE FRITCH
(99-year-old Eureka resident who has deeded part of her land to the Ozark Regional Land Trust)
"This is just a disaster all the way around."
"I invite you to do what SWEPCO hasn't done," Faust said as he paused and struggled with strong emotions. "Excuse me ... Come walk on this land with me and see for yourself how foolish and devastating it would be to run this power line on routes 62 and 86 or for that matter on 33. If you don't believe what I say, come and see for yourself."
"The simple fact is that a 345kv line exceeds the total electricity consumption of our entire county by at least a factor of four. What should concern the APSC is whether this project is harmful to Carroll County and its residents and whether SWEPCO's profits should take precedence over the well-being of the residents of Carroll County.
Our Ozark forests generally house over 100 trees per acre -- which means tens of thousands of trees will be removed.
Our competitive advantage for tourist dollars is the incredible vistas all around Eureka Springs and the area. I urge you to reject this project completely.
"If you mess up the ground water it can't be fixed. My well is clean and healthy, but when you start killing off the land and poisoning the trees and so on, you start messing with the ground water and the well water. We are healthy people and want to remain that way.
I agree with the gentleman who said it was the wrong question -- not to ask which route should go through but why should any of them go through at all."
"I want to invite you to my house so you can see how beautiful it is there. If you approve SWEPCO, it will all be ruined."
SHARON FREEMAN LABORDE
(Owner of 9 acres on CR 231, on Table Rock Lake.)
"I am opposed to the whole project for myself and for the whole county. During my years as a high school teacher, I tried to instill in young people the ideal that we live in democracy where everyone has a voice. and self-determination as guaranteed to all people by our Constitution.
Corporations are not people. When our country is ruled by corporations, we will no longer live in a democracy."
(Eureka resident since 1989 and longtime motel owner here)
"In working in tourism for those years we realized how fragile the tourism business is, any natural disaster, any manmade incidents can damage it.
Tourists themselves are so spaced out when they get here, they're a mess from their jobs and lives. Yet after they've been here for several days they have changed, they have been transformed into lovely people again.
If this project is allowed to happen -- the decimation of the beautiful hills and valleys of the Ozarks -- they won't be there to soothe and calm the tourists, and consequently there will probably be no tourists."
(Board member of Save The Ozarks)
"I want to raise an important concern that the Environmental Impact Statement by SWEPCO ignores: There is no mention of long-term economic impact -- it received no consideration from the impact statement. Economic impact is a very serious concern by the tourism industry chiefs in our state (reading a letter from the head of the Arkansas Department of Tourism)."
"This is a defining moment. It's time to say no more to SWEPCO.
If you think SWEPCO has energy, you haven't seen anything yet. We will rise up, and the energy that comes from these people ... and just like this is affecting our lives we will affect yours.
"At the heart of this issue is the need for this power line. SPP is the cause of this whole issue but they're unwilling to prove their original assertion to the public. This is not good enough. If this truly is important than they should be willing to show us and explain how they made that determination. Show us the evidence that this power line is needed."
(Environmental activist and owner of 135 acres that would be traversed by four of the routes)
"This project is not consistent with the Southwest Power Pool's Notice to Construct. The project described by SWEPCO in its application is not consistent with the findings and recommendations of SPP's Ozark Transmission Study.
And SWEPCO's Environmental Impact Study submitted by SWEPCO is lacking; these flaws include the EIS includes claim that the project will have no significant impact on the economy of the affected area, but no data or other information is stated to substantiate this data -- while readily available data from the state to discount their claim was ignored and omitted."
"This is one of the most arrogantly dangerous actions ever to be imposed on this region.
Not since the threatening of the Buffalo River has there been such an outcry."
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To learn more about the SWEPCO proposal and the fight against it here in Eureka Springs, visit www.SaveTheOzarks.org.