Quorum Court to consider opposition to SWEPCO plans
Editor's note: The print version of this report included an error about the amount of the rate increase that would occur with the proposed power line. This online version has since been corrected. CCN apologizes for the error.
CARROLL COUNTY -- Justices of the Peace will consider Friday whether to join the already swelling chorus opposed to the construction of a new power line across Carroll County.
The project, proposed by investor-owned Southwestern Electric Power Company, is currently pending before the Arkansas Public Service Commission.
The 345 kV power line would connect the Shipe Road station, currently being built in Benton County, with another, yet-to-be-constructed station -- to be located off Highway 143, in Carroll County.
Six possible routes have been proposed for the lines, with one route preferred by SWEPCO.
If the company has its way, the new power highway would consume a 150-foot-wide, 48-mile-long swath of land and could increase SWEPCO residential customers' bills by 51 cents per 1,000 kiloWatt-hours, according to a company spokesman.
In its application to the PSC, the company argued the construction was necessary to meet increasing demand in the region, as determined in a 2007 study.
Opponents, however, have disputed whether such a need still exists, citing the economic downturn that began in 2008.
They have also argued the new lines would jeopardize public health, damage pristine natural resources, and compromise one of the county's primary economic drivers: the tourist mecca of Eureka Springs.
In a resolution to be considered Friday, JP Lamont Richie echoed many of these concerns. Richie's constituency is centered on Eureka Springs, which would be disproportionately affected by the project.
"I believe it would have a serious detrimental impact on the environment and the economy in this county," Richie said Monday.
Though he is not among those whose property lies within the proposed rights-of-way for the power lines, Richie said his livelihood, an art gallery in Eureka Springs, did stand to be affected.
The resolution Richie authored cites the potential impact of the project on such landmarks as the Pea Ridge National Military Park, Thorncrown Chapel, the Inspiration Point observation area, the historic Beaver Bridge, the City of Eureka Springs, and the Silver Wings Air Filed -- all of which are in close proximity to one or more of the proposed routes.
The resolution also makes special mention of the White River, designated just last year as the nation's second National Blueway, in recognition of ongoing preservation and restoration efforts.
SWEPCO has proposed saddling the river with 160-foot-tall towers. That -- and widespread spraying of herbicides on power line easements -- has led some residents to worry what effect the project might have on the river's pristine views and water quality.
"The use of herbicides and the potential impact on wildlife ... is incalcuable," Richie said.
The resolution argues that the potential environmental costs could trickle down to the economy, as well.
"There is great potential (that) this loss of natural beauty (will impact) the economic engine that, in 2012 alone, generated sales in Eureka Springs of over $94 million, resulting in over $450,000 in sales tax revenue to the county," the resolution states.
The resolution does not favor one of the six routes proposed by SWEPCO, but flatly rejects the entire proposal.
"I think the entire project, regardless of which route is chosen, will affect Carroll County," Richie said. He added that he wasn't convinced the project was necessary, in the first place -- at least not for Carroll County.
"I haven't seen anything to indicate the demand is needed for this area," he said. SWEPCO spokesman Peter Main said earlier this month that the project was part of "broader, long-term, regional responsibilities ... in Northern Arkansas and Southern Missouri."
Richie said he hoped the resolution, if approved, would help persuade commissioners to reject SWEPCO's proposal, though he acknowledged it would not likely do so alone.
"My hope is that it's going to be cumulative," he said. JPs would certainly not be alone in their opposition.
As of Monday, several thousand objections had been filed with the PSC, by individuals, organizations, and other governmental bodies.
These objectors include the cities of Bentonville, Cave Springs, Eureka Springs, Garfield, Gateway, Springdale; the Town of Beaver; the Arkansas Department of Health; State Senator Cecile Bledsoe; State Representatives Duncan Baird and Jim Dotson; and the Wal-Mart Corporation.
"By and large the concensus from those who have submitted comments is that the project is not worth it," Richie said.
However, it isn't clear how many of Richie's fellow JPs feel the same way.
JP Dan Mumaugh, who also has constituents in the Eureka Springs area, said he was in support of the resolution.
Mumaugh was one of the several thousand to comment on the proposal to the PSC. The language he used has attracted outrage from some in Eureka Springs.
In his letter to commissioners, Mumaugh urged them to render a decision as soon as possible.
"Please do not allow agitators in and around Eureka and Beaver, many of whom are not directly impacted by the project, to slow you down," he wrote, later adding, "please do not allow the reliably and perpetually afflicted 'anti-everything' crowd to delay this vital process."
Speaking Monday, Mumaugh said he was firmly opposed to the project -- The sale of his own home on Pivot Rock Road has been been jeopardized by the SWEPCO proposals. He only wanted to see a decision rendered quickly, he said, so as not to prolong the "anguish" of those affected.
Other JPs are not as invested in the issue. JP John Reeve said he had not yet decided whether to support Richie's resolution.
"From my personal standpoint, I'd rather stay on the sidelines," he said. He added that some SWEPCO representatives had recently given a presentation during his Rotary Club meeting.
"I've got to believe that there's a need to have this line," he said. "There's a lot of research that has gone into deciding whether or not its needed."
"If there's a need," he added, "it's going to have to come from some place ... People who know a lot more about it than me have evaluated it. I don't believe that our utilities put lines out just for the hell of it."
JP Jack Deaton said that he was also still undecided on the resolution and wanted more information before making a decision.
"Its not a bad deal if it doesn't affect you," he said. "It's a bad deal if it does affect you."
JPs will meet at 10 a.m. at the County Courthouse, located at 210 West Church Ave. in Berryville. Members of the public will be given the opportunity to speak early in the meeting, with each speaker restricted to three minutes. For more information, call 870-423-2967.