EDITORIAL: Hearing an eye-opener for us -- hopefully for the decision-makers, too

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Arkansas Public Service Commission hearing going on in Little Rock this week will ultimately render a decision by an administrative law judge and then the three-person Commission as to whether SWEPCO will be allowed to build its 345,000-Volt power line across Western Carroll County.

The hearing has been eye-opening for us, and we already were highly suspicious of SWEPCO and all the reasons it's given for wanting to build the mega-power line.

A few of the biggest revelations were quite disappointing -- that is, if you believe or want to believe in the honesty, character or ethics of any major corporation. (Incidentally, we aren't that na*ve, but we sure wish it was safe in today's world to be so trusting.)

So far this week, it's been shown that:

SWEPCO proceeded with its application and construction plans before it analyzed any subsurface topographical or geographic data that would definitively show whether the power lines can even be safely built in our karst-filled terrain.

During Tuesday's proceedings, Save The Ozarks attorney Mick Harrison grilled SWEPCO expert and civil engineering professor Richard Coffman about what geographic data he had analyzed before he had issued his recommendations that the ground along the proposed routes was suitable for erecting 130- to 160-foot-tall power poles.

Coffman testified that he had analyzed surface-level data, but he could not (or would not?) swear that he had also analyzed any studies of the nature of the ground underneath the surface level, which is where he would have likely found evidence of extensive karst, which gives way typically to many caves, sinkholes and other open spaces underground -- none of which is safe to build tall power poles on.

When Harrison asked Coffman how much he'd looked at subsurface imaging of the terrain and so forth, Coffman replied that he pretty much hadn't. He "explained" that the subsurface analysis typically takes place during the design period of the project -- long after it's been approved.

Well, that makes no sense to us at all. How does SWEPCO even know -- and how is the Commission supposed to know, based on SWEPCO's analysis and its conclusions -- whether this project is even remotely safe for our karst terrain if it hasn't even partially analyzed what's under the ground's surface where it plans to build. Sounds very suspicious -- and dangerous -- to us.

Harrison noted the absurdity of this as well during Tuesday's hearing, since without a subsurface analysis, the true environmental impact cannot be known, therefore the Environmental Impact Study cannot possibly be complete. We concur.

Also during Tuesday's proceedings, the fact was noted that the Environmental Impact Study includes no discussion of the karst terrain and/or the precautions that should be taken in such terrain -- assuming SWEPCO and its "experts" even know what such precautions may be.

The judge overseeing the hearing has been listening intently to everyone's testimony, and although she seems to have a jovial and friendly business relationship with the utility industry representatives and attorneys -- she likely sees them on a frequent basis -- she is clearly giving great effort toward remaining impartial in both actuality and appearance.

We can only hope that the inconsistencies and oversights that SWEPCO's plans are fraught with and that are now coming to light will make a deep impression on the judge, as well as the Commissioners on hand to view the proceedings.

It's up to them to make sure a utility has crossed their T's and dotted their I's, completing their due diligence required by law before they may be approved to build electrical facilities or power lines.

May they quickly, easily and clearly see the truth, and may it set us all free.