EDITORIAL: Opposition En Masse: Simply inspiring, Area residents band together as hundreds sweep SWEPCO hearing

Thursday, July 18, 2013

In what is surely the most unifying cause to affect Carroll County in decades -- if not ever -- the Arkansas Public Service Commission hearings on SWEPCO's power-line plan drew at least 500 area residents Monday and Tuesday.

It was an awesome sight to behold -- that many Carroll County and Eureka Springs residents from so many different walks of life coming together for a common cause. Judging from the widespread camaraderie at the Inn of the Ozarks Convention Center, it was clear that the residents who attended had left all their often-colorful differences of opinions -- something our county and especially Eureka Springs is somewhat well-known for -- at the door.

It also became clear as testimony got under way and continued Monday that Carroll Countians will not be "divided and conquered" by the proposal that includes not just a few but six different proposed routes.

Perhaps SWEPCO hoped differently. State Sen. Bryan King told the Citizen as much after Monday's hearing, and he said he particularly did not like the way SWEPCO was operating nor how it presented its proposal to the APSC.

King, who previously filed his official opposition to the SWEPCO transmission line in paperwork with the APSC, did not speak at the hearing because, he said, he didn't want to take time away from regular residents who perhaps had not already filed their comments online nor gotten their chance to voice their concerns yet.

Often, when a large corporation is trying to push through approval on a project that is likely to be opposed, that corporation will present several different options for its project in hopes of distracting residents from the big, area-wide issue -- whether to approve the transmission line at all -- as they become more focused on their own back yards -- and on which specific route is worst and/or would hurt them the most.

But the trick did not work this time.

With surprising consistency, Carroll Countians who spoke at the public hearings this week were overwhelmingly opposed to the project in its entirety, and they said so -- over and over and over.

Not one person who spoke at the hearings asked for one route to be approved over another. Only a handful even mentioned the differences in routes or distinguished between any of them.

Instead, repeatedly, Carroll Countians stood up for not only themselves but for their neighbors as well: "I oppose the SWEPCO project in its entirety," they said, again and again.

Democracy in action on a local level is always something to behold -- especially here in Eureka Springs, where emotions tend to run high where differing opinions lie. And that's pretty much anywhere and everywhere there are important public decisions being made.

But we all know that democracy in action, sadly, no longer draws crowds like it used to -- most anywhere in the United States. It's a problem the entire country has faced as fewer people vote every election year and fewer people are engaged with their own governmental system.

But this week, Carroll County proved itself engaged, educated, energized -- and en masse. Unified. One body. Fighting the same fight and the same enemy.

While we recognize that in a town as diverse as Eureka Springs, passionate disagreements and even at-times-ugly confrontations are probably not gone for good, it sure is nice to see so many local folks get on the same team for a change.

Now, let's all pray that it'll do some good.