EDITORIAL: Community's SWEPCO fight inspires again

Thursday, September 19, 2013

We'd like to share a story with you, a story that reminds us that when a community bands together, anything is possible.

In this case, a group of volunteers and about 300 local residents have shown that it IS possible for a group of "regular folks" to mount a viable effort to fight Big Money -- a la giant corporations like Southwestern Electric Power Co. and its parent company, American Electric Power.

In April, non-profit group Save The Ozarks launched a high-stakes challenge to SWEPCO's application to the Arkansas Public Service Commission to build a 345,000 Volt transmission line through the heart of the Ozarks, and right through the western half of Carroll County. Save The Ozarks is a group formed in early April by Eureka Springs-area landowners, business owners and others who oppose SWEPCO's proposed mega-power line.

STO hired a legal team -- two attorneys and two paralegals -- to represent Eureka Springs-area residents' concerns before the Public Service Commission, and STO also hired experts to serve as witnesses on three topics: the need for the project, its impacts on the karst terrain of the Ozarks, and visual impacts of the project.

All of that is costing STO money -- a lot of money. In fact, the growing mountain of expenses for STO's battle -- which is really OUR battle, as a community -- has, at times, seemed insurmountable, we're certain.

But this past Sunday, people from all over the Ozarks came to a benefit auction at Caribe Restaurante y Cantina -- ultimately donating more than $35,000 to support Save the Ozarks' campaign to stop SWEPCO.

STO Director Pat Costner said, "We are amazed by our community's commitment and generosity! The Caribe benefit in combination with two anonymous matching fund offers of $10,000 brings us within reach of covering the costs of our legal team through to the end of the APSC proceedings."

Volunteers led by Penny Walker, Ilene Powell, KJ Zumwalt and Teresa DeVito spent seven weeks organizing and collecting more than 300 items -- artwork, crafts items, and many other goods and services -- that were donated for the auction.

On Sunday morning, a crew of 25 volunteers arrived at 11 a.m. to set up the auction. At 2:30 p.m., more volunteers opened the doors and began collecting $10 admission donations and handing out numbered bidding paddles to the 297 attendees waiting for the auctions.

Outside, volunteers sold STO T-shirts and buttons and collected more than $5,000 in cash donations.

Volunteers included Sarai Aleshire, Clover, Jean Elderwind, Sara Harrison, Katrina Humphries, Isis, Sandy Martin, Phyllis Moraga, Phyllis Poe, Glenda Satterfield, Greg Schneider, Faith Shah, Michael Shah, Lucy Stowe, and Lana Walker, said Costner in an email to the Citizen.

During the afternoon, Maureen Alexander sang and played guitar for attendees. Auctioneers Beau Satori and Carly James worked at drawing higher bids for each item, pointing out the unique qualities of each sale item and offering anecdotes about the donors. Assistants Julie Kahn Valentine, John Rankine, Sarah Moore and others carried items at bid through the crowd. Satori drew laughs and higher bids by describing bids in terms of "another (SWEPCO) pole down."

Items sold during the live auction brought between $300 and $500 each. The highest bid for a single item was $2,600 for an at-home dinner for eight personally catered by Case Dighero, Director of Culinary Services for Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and Dacre Whitaker, also with Crystal Bridges.

By the end of the evening, the silent auction, two live auctions, a raffle and grab bag had raised a total of more than $22,000. With some auction items still to be retrieved and paid for, that total is still growing. Caribe and its staff members contributed an additional $1,200 from their donated food sales and tips.

The Gaskin Switch Boys -- Gary Allbritton, Leroy Gorrell,Wolf Grulkey, Ron Sumner and Steve Bush began playing and singing at 7:30 p.m., and they had the crowd up and dancing within half an hour, and kept them on the floor until the doors closed at 11 p.m.

It was great ending to an inspiring day of community involvement and solidarity.

So we'd like to raise the proverbial glass to STO, all the volunteers that helped make Sunday happen, all the attendees who participated, all the donors big and small, and everyone else who has helped fight SWEPCO's proposal in their own way.

Keep fighting the good fight!