SWEPCO's handling of power line proposal prompts protests, accusations of deception

Friday, April 26, 2013

CARROLL COUNTY -- Some area citizens are upset and suspicious of what they are calling SWEPCO's deception about a proposed 345 kV transmission line that will cut through Benton and Carroll counties on one of six proposed routes.

Meanwhile, opposition is growing to the project, with some area officials weighing in against it.

At the April 18 concerned residents' meeting held by Save the Ozarks -- an organization opposed to the project on several fronts -- Beaver property owner Susan Morrison, who has a heronry on her land with more than 60 nests, said angrily, "I want to know why (local officials) knew about this in November and we didn't."

In answer to that question, Eureka Springs Mayor Morris Pate said by phone Tuesday he had two meetings back in the fall about the project. The first was with engineers, who told him the project was proposed, and the second was with Jeff Milford of SWEPCO.

"He showed me where the proposed lines would go to, between the depot and the sewer plant, and said the other line was north of there. I thought it was by Holiday Island," Pate said.

He said Milford had a printed map, not a topological map.

"He did not ask my opinion. It didn't matter what my opinion was," the mayor added.

Pate said the SWEPCO representative didn't say how far in the future the project would occur.

He said he didn't know why SWEPCO was contacting him, if none of the proposed routes would go inside the city limits.

"I told him well, it's going to cross near the city limits," Pate recalled. "I don't think there was even a tower there on the (route) closest to the city."

Pate said he didn't bring the project up in a council meeting because "it's not really a city matter."

"Everybody wants it to be a city matter, but it's not," he said. "I can only get involved in what's inside the city. It creates a lot of friction because a lot of people want it to be a city matter, but I'm sworn to uphold and take care of what is inside city limits, nothing more."

Carroll County Judge Sam Barr said his one meeting with SWEPCO officials occurred "some time ago," but he didn't remember the date.

"They said they could come through Missouri or Eureka Springs, and I told them if they didn't want problems they should stay away from Eureka with it."

He also said he didn't really know why SWEPCO contacted him, since he would have no control over where the line went.

He did not ever bring up the matter at a Quorum Court meeting.

"I didn't see why I should when there is nothing I can do about it," Barr emphasized.

Asked his personal opinion about the project, the county judge replied: "No comment."

But Barr apparently was a bit more forthcoming with Errol Severe, who owns the Aviation Cadet Museum in Eureka Springs on Onyx Cave Road. Four of SWEPCO's six proposed routes would directly affect Severe's property.

Following is a recollection of his conversation with Judge Barr, posted publicly on the Save The Ozarks website.

Severe says he called Barr on April 19.

"I have known him for many years and thought of him as a friend," Severe wrote. When he inquired as to why Barr hadn't let people know about the line, Barr reportedly replied, "Well, there was nothing I could do about it," and added: "It's progress. Anytime the lights go out, people complain."

"I said, 'Sam, if this huge scar went across your land, you would be some upset!'" Severe recalls. "Barr countered: 'I would not! That's the price of progress!'

"I said: 'Progress at the price of destroying this beautiful land?' He answered: 'That's right, and it's obvious we don't agree, good by [sic].'"

All four routes that would affect Severe directly would split his property in half and would also affect the airstrip he has on his land in terms of airspace height requirements set by the FAA.

Severe's land also has a cave that extends 660 feet back, which he believes connects to the Onyx Cave system. The four transmission line routes would go directly over the top of this cave, he said.

On Tuesday, officials from the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission visited.

"They documented over a hundred brown bats in the cave," he said.

While the particular species in his cave is not on the endangered species list, he said, there is no telling what a transmission line would do to the colony.

Severe also said there is an existing 140 kV powerline 50 yards from his home.

"I think we've done our part to provide electric power," he said. "All we want to do is live on our land. Just leave us alone."

Some area officials have come out against the project.

Mayor Mary Hill of Beaver said she received a letter last August that SWEPCO was conducting a study and would be contacting the town council, but that never happened.

She said council voted to oppose the project, and she sent a letter off Tuesday to the Arkansas Public Service Commission to that effect.

She also contacted the Corps of Engineers about the fact that SWEPCO would cut a 150-foot swath of trees on Corps property at the lake.

While none of the lines would go directly through Beaver town limits, one would come through Beaver Meadows and across Table Rock Lake, and it would be visible from the Beaver walking trail.

"We're very worried about the pesticides and the runoff," she said. "We are already flooded."

Hill said the line would have a huge impact on tourism. The Beaver Bridge is on the National Register of Historic Places, and Highway 187 is a popular automobile route for tourists and car and motorcycle clubs, who flock to the beauty of the valley. The transmission line would be visible from the highway.

The mayor of Garfield, Laura Hamilton, also sent a letter to the APSC, saying the city is opposed to SWEPCO's preferred Route 33, calling it an "unparalleled impact to the citizens of Garfield."

The line would cut through the middle of the city of Garfield, she said, impacting residential areas, a large residential subdivision, prime commercial areas and a planned new commercial area.

She also said the line would come close to the elementary stchool "where our young children would spend their days in close proximity to High Power Transmission Lines and their subsequent radiation fields."

The Arkansas Health Department also commented on the APSC website, stating the proposed routes impact 13 public drinking water systems, including Carroll-Boone Water District, which serves the cities of Carroll County.

"Every effort should be taken to prevent any sediment from construction runoff from entering Beaver Lake and its tributaries before, during and after construction," wrote Lyle Godfrey, P.E., chief technical support for ADH.

As of Tuesday, more than 300 comments protesting the transmission line had been received by the APSC.

To read the comments or leave your own, visit www.apscservices.info, click on "Public Comments Search," and select Docket 13-041-U.

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