APSC judge to hear SWEPCO power-line arguments Monday

Thursday, August 22, 2013

On Monday, all involved parties will present their oral arguments for or against the application of Southwestern Electric Power Co. to construct a 345,000 Volt power line through Western Carroll County at an Arkansas Public Service Commission hearing in Little Rock.

SWEPCO has asked for permission to construct a mega-power line from its Shipe Road station in Benton County to a proposed new substation on the Kings River near Berryville. The line would be 48 miles long, and the power poles would be about twice the height of the county's tallest current poles, at 160 feet apiece.

Administrative Law Judge Connie Griffin, who presided over the public hearings held in Eureka Springs and Rogers last month, will also preside over the APSC hearing on Monday. The hearing is expected to continue for several days if not the entire week, officials said.

Public comments will be allowed after the parties' opening statements -- limited to 10 minutes per party -- at the beginning of the hearing Monday, said John Bethel at the APSC. Only individuals who have not already commented at a previous public hearing will be allowed to speak, and they will be limited to three minutes apiece, Bethel said.

After the public comments end, the only people who will be allowed to testify at the hearing are those who have been approved by Griffin as official "Intervenors," or parties who have proven they have a direct interest in and impact from the proposed power-line routes.

Each party will call witnesses who have previously submitted written testimony to the APSC, then each witness may be cross-examined by the other parties involved, as well as by Judge Griffin, Bethel said. "The remainder of the hearing will be the presentation and cross-examination of those witnesses," he added. "This portion of the hearing will look a lot like a civil trial."

Editor's note: Watch the Lovely County Citizen's Facebook page -- www.Facebook.com/LovelyCountyCitizen -- for continuing updates on the hearing throughout the proceedings, and check out next week's Citizen for a complete report on the parties' testimonies.

No closing statements will be entertained, Judge Griffin has ruled.

Starting the testimony after the public comments portion will be attorneys and representatives from SWEPCO, followed by Southwest Power Pool, one of several U.S. regulatory agencies that is authorized by the federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 to oversee the nation's electrical grid -- and to instruct utilities when and where new lines are needed.

It was SPP that originally instructed SWEPCO to build the proposed power line, in a 2008 Notice To Contruct.

It is unclear whether SPP -- because of its authority granted by the Energy Act -- or the APSC has the ultimate authority on whether the power line will be constructed, officials have said, because a conflict between the two entities has not yet occurred -- nor been argued in court -- in such a case as this.

Following SWEPCO's and SPP's testimony will be one more party expected to testify in support of the proposal, Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp.

Then the intervenors expected to testify against the power-line proposal will begin, in the following order:

(4) Save The Ozarks ("STO"),

(5) Fritz Goodnow and Tom Oppenheim ("River Oaks Intervenors"),

(6) Mitchell & Spencer Properties LLC,

(7) Thomas and Sarah Allred ("Allred"),

(8) Coughlin Family, LLC, the Coughlin Family Revocable Living Trust, and the Coughlin Family Revocable Trust, by and through their authorized representative Cynthia Coughlin ("Coughlin")

(9) David and Bettianne Jackson, B. Cris and Eleanor Jones, Charles and Kathleene Chiasson, Hans Christian and Charlene Hoewt, Rick and Janet Clark, Paul Zander and Blackthorn Land and Trading Company, LLC, ("Jackson Petitioners"),

(10) Municipality of Gateway,

(11) Municipality of Garfield,

(12) City of Springdale, Arkansas,

(13) City of Cave Springs,

(14) Spider Creek Resort Inc., and Peter Godfrey, individually ("Spider Creek"),

(15) Wal-Mart Real Estate Business Trust ("Wal-Mart"),

(16) B. Michael Bennett and Lori L. Bennett ("Bennetts"),

(17) Jonathan P, Holbert and DeLee A. Holbert, husband and wife ("Holbert Petitioners"),

(18) Jeffrey W. and Christina M. Danos, husband and wife ("Danos Petitioners"), and

(19) the General Staff of the Arkansas Public Service Commission ("Staff").

An order including Judge Griffin's decision on SWEPCO's application to build the power line is required by law to be issued within 60 days of the end of the hearing.

However, the final decision rests with the actual three-person Public Service Commission, which may take any of four actions once Griffin's decision is released:

* The Commission may affirm her decision and adopt it as their own;

* The Commission may reject and overturn her decision in full;

* The Commission may modify her decision; or

* The Commission may take no action, and after 30 days of no action, then the judge's decision becomes the final decision of the Commission.

The hearing next week begins at 9:30 a.m. and will take place at the Public Service Commission building at 1000 Center St. in downtown Little Rock, in the Hearing Room on the first floor.

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