EDITORIAL: A sneaky SWEPCO drops three routes

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Surprise, surprise. SWEPCO, in a filing with the Arkansas Public Service Commission last Friday, "revised its rankings" of its six alternative routes for the proposed Shipe Road-Kings River 345,000 Volt transmission line project in Benton and Carroll counties.

The change was announced in testimony filed by Brian Johnson on behalf of SWEPCO that was a "rebuttal" of comments made by area residents at last week's public hearings. Johnson was one of five "experts" who filed rebuttals on behalf of SWEPCO, and they use many, many words and lots of legalese and technical mumbo-jumbo to explain SWEPCO's arguments against pretty much every reason given by area residents for not approving the project as a whole.

And in a move that we fully expected, the power company threw out Routes 62, 86 and 91.

Why? Because what we view as their attempt to present as many routes as possible -- and divide and conquer the local residents' opposition -- fell short.

Think about it. Had SWEPCO proposed just one route, it would be more likely that area residents would join forces to oppose the entire project. But with six proposed routes -- three of which they now acknowledge are unworkable for reasons that were obvious from the get-go -- it was far more likely that residents would be more concerned about their individual property rights -- you know, "Not In My Back Yard."

Then, instead of a mass of opposition to the entire project, SWEPCO would like be facing a lot of bickering residents who each opposed the route closest to their property.

If that were to have occurred, SWEPCO wouldn't be fighting to prove the project was needed in the first place. That question would probably be a moot point -- approval of the project as whole would be assumed -- as the focus became which route would be approved.

Part of my original concern about this project was the way (power companies) do these things and have so many proposed routes," said state Sen. Bryan King, R-Carroll County, "when you'd think some of them have no chance of getting approved. The result is it divides the people."

What SWEPCO didn't count on was the Strength of Community in Carroll County and especially the Eureka Springs area.

SWEPCO likely expected many if not most of the residents who testified at the public hearings to offer their reasons for opposing the route closest to their homes. That didn't happen. Nearly everyone of the 229 people who spoke in opposition last Monday and Tuesday clearly stated they oppose the entire project -- not just one route or the other.

"Historically, the way it usually breaks down is there seems to be opponents for each route, and eventually what happens is that people are protecting their own property from the closest proposed route and saying the other routes are OK," explained state Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Carroll County. "But that didn't happen here. SWEPCO ran into a sort of 'Perfect Storm' when they started trying to go through Eureka. The people of Eureka Springs have a lot of passion and know how to get organized -- and SWEPCO ran into something I don't think they ever anticipated."

Indeed. That gives us goose bumps! The idea that we, as Americans, can actually still band together to fight something we see as unfair and wrong, among other things -- even when that Something is backed by what they call an order from a power organization that has federal authority in these things.

Even SWEPCO acknowledged that it was -- at least in part -- the overwhelming public outcry of opposition that changed their plans:

"As a result of information gathered from numerous public and governmental commenters, and testimony of intervenors, SWEPCO now considers Routes 62, 86 and 91 to be the least favored routes," SWEPCO spokesman Peter Main told the Lovely County Citizen. "SWEPCO's rebuttal testimony notes opposition to any transmission lines in close proximity to Thorncrown Chapel, Inspiration Point and historic downtown Eureka Springs."

So those routes are being put at the bottom of the list, which basically means they are considered null and void.

Johnson wrote in his rebuttal testimony:

"SWEPCO recommends that Routes 62, 86 and 91 be removed from further consideration unless and until the Commission determines that neither Routes 33, 109 nor 108 are reasonable. In that event, SWEPCO would initiate a renewed consideration of easements for Routes 62, 86 and 91 with the Corps of Engineers. ... SWEPCO continues to assert that its proposed Route 33 is a reasonable route and thus should be approved by the Commission."

Now, noted Ballinger, there is the possibility that all the folks living along the routes that were dropped will lose some of the "passion" they showed in opposing the entire project. He, and we, hope that does not happen.

"Now there is a danger of losing some of the passion among the opposition," he said. "The opposition will likely lose some of the people who were so opposed to it. The route they called the biggest evil has gone away, and opponents may be less likely to give money or time to the cause."

Again, SWEPCO appears to be aiming to divide our people; the fewer active opponents to their project, the more likely it will be approved by the Arkansas Public Service Commission.

Let's show SWEPCO that we -- still -- stand together against their project. Let's not only stay involved and active in the fight, let's recruit even more county residents to voice their opposition.

The battle is far from over; we're making progress, so let's keep up the fight against a monstrous project that is all wrong for Carroll County.