SWEPCO plans new transmission line across Benton and Carroll counties

Friday, April 5, 2013 ~ Updated 10:15 AM
The above map shows SWEPCO's six possible routes for a new 345 kV transmission line and electrical station near the Kings River in Berryville. The preferred route, Route 33, is the yellow line at the top of the map. (See link in the story for a larger version of the map.)

CARROLL COUNTY -- Southwestern Electric Power Company has applied to the Arkansas Public Service Commission for permission to build a new 345 kV transmission line across parts of Benton and Carroll counties and to build a station northwest of Berryville, near the Kings River.

The application for a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need was filed Wednesday.

Potential affected landowners were sent notices by certified mail, and SWEPCO published a public notice in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, but not in Carroll County News.

The transmission line is to start at the Shipe Road station, currently under construction, west of Centerton in Benton County and extend 48 miles across to a new Kings River station in Carroll County. The preferred route, one of six, will take the line through the northern portion of both counties, going through Garfield and Gateway in Benton County, continuing east of U.S. Hwy. 62, crossing the White River south of the town of Beaver, passing 3,000 feet north of Lake Leatherwood in Eureka Springs, crossing Hwy. 187 and 23 North just below Holiday Island, continuing through wooded areas until it runs near Silver Wings Field in Eureka Springs, crossing County Road 279 in rural Berryville, continuing parallel to the Kings River, crossing it and then making a right angle south to the new station site on County Road 143, approximately one-half mile north of Hwy. 62.

The project application said the need for additional transmission is based on a study done in 2007, which concluded that rapid population growth in northwest Arkansas would cause serious reliability issues in the transmission system, beginning in the summer of 2016.

Census figures showed 8 percent growth in Carroll County alone between the 2000 and 2010 census.

SWEPCO is the owner and operator of transmission facilities in this geographic area, said Peter Main, a company spokesman, and they were directed to build an additional line when it was determined that existing lines could not handle increased needs in this decade.

Project cost is estimated between $90,218,519 and $117,433,704, depending on which route is approved. If SWEPCO's preferred route is approved, the project will cost $116,718,121, with $96,274,138 for the transmission line, including right-of-way easements, and $20,443,983 for the Kings River station. The project will be funded by loans and internal cash. Costs may also be shared by other electric companies who make use of the lines, Main said. He said SWEPCO residential customers may expect to see a rate increase of 51 cents per 1,000 kWh once the line is operational.

Line construction is expected to begin in March 2015 and go online by June 2016. The ROW will be 150 feet, and towers will be between 130 and 160 feet tall.

Five alternate routes have been identified besides SWEPCO's preferred route, labeled Route 33 (to see a larger version of the above map, click here. To use an interactive Google map showing the preferred route and allowing users to put their address in to see how close the line will come to them, click here.

Seven factors in choosing the recommended route and alternatives were cost of facilities, health and safety concerns, engineering and technical concerns, ecological and environmental disruptions, disruptions to existing man-made uses, disruptions to future man-made uses and aesthetic displeasure.

SWEPCO hired the Burns & McDonnell Engineering Company of Kansas City, Mo., to do its route selection study and Environmental Impact Statement. The study area included areas from as far west as Bentonville and as far east as the Kings River station. It also included parts of southwest Missouri.

The company investigated a total of 122 alternative routes. Routing criteria included residences, road crossings, public facilities, historic sites, archeological sites, flood plains, woodlands, wetlands, cropland and special species habitat, among others. These criteria were given weighted scores.

"None of the alternatives chosen would have the least impact for all criteria evaluated," testified Stephen Thornhill, associate project manager, to the APSC. He said the preferred route had the lowest average impact score, but the score itself was not the determining factor.

"It minimized woodland clearing requirements, avoided recreational and residential development around Beaver Lake and the city of Eureka Springs, while also minimizing residential proximity."

It also avoided considerable rough terrain, he said and will not require anyone's residence to be relocated. The greatest impact will be cutting trees, he said.

Cemeteries located within a quarter-mile of the transmission line are the Eureka Springs Cemetery and the Gaskins Switch Cemetery at Hwy. 187 and 23 North.

All six of the routes have been broken into segments that can be combined in new ways to come up with another route, he said.

The five alternate routes are Route 62, which is slightly shorter and has lower residential impact but would require more woodland clearing, angles, transmission line crossings, floodplain crossings and would go through more rugged terrain near Beaver Lake and have additional length close to Eureka Springs. Route 86 has some similar concerns to those about Route 62. Route 91 would be slightly shorter than Route 33 but would be higher in the nearly all the evaluation criteria and would pass through Eureka Springs, Route 108 would have to cross I-540, be 10 miles longer and have impacts in almost all the criteria. Route 109 would extend around Bella Vista and into Missouri, adding eight extra miles and would create "regulatory complications" and added cost by going into Missouri.

However, he said, the differences in environmental impact of these alternative routes would be "minimal," and any of them would be "acceptable environmentally."

In its vegetation management program, SWEPCO uses manual and mechanical clearing as well as selective herbicide applications "to reduce the cost to ratepayers for future maintenance," he said. He said he is aware of public response in this area to herbicide use.

"We would visit with landowners about their concerns," he said, but did not confirm whether, like Carroll Electric, landowners who did not want herbicides used on their ROWs would have those requests honored.

"We assure them that we use EPA registered herbicides and use licensed application companies," he said. "There are really sound reasons for the use of herbicide applications."

Those who wish to view the application, maps and other related documents to the project can see them at public libraries in Benton, Carroll, Madison and Washington counties and also online at the APSC website at www.apscservices.info. The docket number is 13-041-U.

A schedule for hearings before the APSC in Little Rock has not been set but is expected within three to four weeks, APSC officials said. In the meantime the public can go to their website and enter comments.

Main said he was unaware at this time of any public hearings scheduled to be held in Carroll County. Hearings before the commission would be held their office in Little Rock. Those who wish to respond can go to the APSC website and enter comments.

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