GUEST EDITORIAL: Serious disconnect with the people

Thursday, October 10, 2013

It seems odd to me that it could take so long for the Judge and commission to understand what we tried to tell them at the public hearing on July 15-16 in Eureka Springs. Part of what we've learned however is not good. In our public hearing, over 300 people participated, most of them waiting their turns through 2 full days of testimony. Folks gave up time from work to see and hear every minute of it and to patiently await their turn to speak. It was hard to imagine how someone could have observed those two days of hearing and not be moved.

I had asked PSC director John Bethel how the comments would be used in the judge's deliberations, and he assured me that the judge was listening. Then he told us that the individual testimonies made before the judge those two days would be weighted the same as these comments delivered on line. Is there justice in that? Surely the comments of someone waiting two days to testify, taking time off from work to do so and having the courage to stand up in front of the judge and audience should have some greater value than the comment that can be delivered from the comfort of your home computer while wearing pajamas.

It is obvious to me that there is some kind of serious disconnect between the Arkansas Public Service Commission and the people of Arkansas. The sincere and eloquent expressions of concern voiced by residents during those two incredible days in July seem to have had no effect. Did the Judge hear? We hope so. Was the commission staff affected in any way? Obviously not. The utility company has grown even more arrogant, less compassionate and even less concerned for the people of Northwest Arkansas in the days between then and now. It is as though the outpouring of passionate concern was for naught.

In the early days, just as Save the Ozarks was being formed to stand up to AEP/SWEPCO, we were informed that it was impossible for a legal case in opposition to a power line proposal to be won at the APSC without the significant political support that must arise to give the Administrative Law Judge the necessary courage to stand up to the corporation and regulatory effect that comes from years and years of close association. We were also informed that political action alone would not win. It would not protect our homes and properties or the vibrancy of our tourist economy or the beauty of our forested hills. We mounted a vigorous campaign to do both.

We know we are on the right path. We know we will prevail. The only question at hand is how much self-inflicted damage will AEP/SWEPCO do to itself. Every thing they have done would be an embarrassment to them, if there were any way for a corporation to be embarrassed or feel human emotions. But they do have a bottom line. As more people become aware of how they've chosen to treat us, few will want to invest in a company that is so callous and that has so little regard for community.

At this point the ALJ Connie Griffin is weighing out the briefs submitted by SWEPCO and the various intervenors. If I could say one thing to her, and to commission staff, I would remind them of those two incredible days in July. In their briefs, SWEPCO and the SPP and the APSC commission staff, make light of our sincere testimonies. But we are sincere. Our resolve against this project will not waver.

It would be easiest for all concerned, however, if the still pending motions to dismiss be granted, if SWEPCO began looking elsewhere for it profits, and if we might be allowed to resume normal life.

-- Doug Stowe