Hundreds attend hearing on SWEPCO power-line proposal
Editor's note: To see video of most of the hearing comments presented on Monday, visit the Lovely County Citizen's Facebook page at http://www.Facebook.com/LovelyCountyCitizen. For a more detailed report on the hearings, check out this week's Lovely County Citizen in print, which is on newsstands now, or visit LovelyCitizen.com later this week.
EUREKA SPRINGS -- Nearly 300 area residents signed up at Monday's Arkansas Public Service Commission hearing to voice their opinions on Southwestern Electric Power Co.'s proposal to construct a 345kV transmission line for 48 miles across western Carroll County to a new substation on the Kings River.
About 125 of those got to speak Monday at the hearing, which is continuing all day today till 9 p.m. at the Inn of the Ozarks Convention Center in Eureka Springs.
The public comments were set to continue this morning, but officials said it was unlikely that everyone who signed up -- 271 as of 9 p.m. Monday -- would have time to speak before the hearing ended tonight.
Another public hearing with an identical format is scheduled for Rogers for Wednesday and, if needed, Thursday. It will be held at the Embassy Suites Northwest Arkansas at 3303 Pinnacle Hills Parkway, from 9 a.m. to noon, 1 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m.
Residents from Carroll County who want to speak but have not yet had the opportunity are welcome to attend the Rogers hearing and sign up to speak there. Names from the Eureka hearing sign-up sheet will not be carried over, so anyone who does not have time to speak in Eureka Springs will need to sign up again once they arrive in Rogers, officials said.
Of those who spoke Monday, almost all opposed the entire project; very few residents drew any differences between the routes and the potential environmental and economic damage they will cause.
Only one person on Monday spoke in support of the SWEPCO plan.
By and large, commenters on Monday objected to the power line's potential destructive impact on Eureka Springs' tourist economy; to the environmental damage that is likely to result from the use of herbicides to keep the pathway clear of overgrowth; to the danger to the karst topography that is so prevalent in Carroll County's mountainous terrain, including the many caves and natural springs found throughout the area; to the danger to the county's ground water supply; and many other factors.
Some residents argued there is no need here for additional power capacity, since the most recent Census numbers show what is statistically considered zero growth in Carroll County.
Others argued that SWEPCO hadn't followed the rules in the legal notification of landowners process; still others said SWEPCO's Environmental Impact Study was severely lacking in scope and accuracy.
Many residents who spoke talked of their own experience using solar power and questioned why SWEPCO wasn't willing to look at alternatives to the power lines.
But while they were making their arguments -- many of which were backed by scientific studies and information from recognized experts in the field -- the commenters also told heart-wrenching stories from behind painfully pinched faces as they fought back tears.
One of the most moving speakers of the day was Jeannie Feltman of County Road 115 outside Eureka Springs. She said that from her drive, a short walk from her home, she can see where the power lines would be built under all of the six proposed routes submitted by SWEPCO.
"I'm concerned for my well," Feltman told the administrative law judge presiding over the hearing, Connie Griffin. "Our karst is like Swiss cheese; it's unstable and crumbly and fractious and ... my (well) water is vulnerable to disturbances from quite far away."
Despite a professed penchant for privacy and a tendency to avoid the spotlight, Feltman's words grew clearer and louder as she continued.
"I live here partly because of our rare unspoiled stretch of the White River; I chose to live here because this area has a rare combination of a decent economy and minimal toxic blight like this. You know you usually get one or the other right?" she said.
Since Eureka's economy is largely tourism-based, the question of whether to allow SWEPCO to build its giant power line is much more than just an aesthetic issue, she said.
"You how they say 'No pretty, no eat'? Well, Here we do 'eat pretty,'" Feltman explained. "We're going to lose forever for our kids and grandkids that quality of life that makes this place so special. And they'll be no going back, no going back."
Feltman -- as well as many in the audience -- got choked up as she continued, her voice rising.
"Please don't let this happen. The river won't be worth floating and fishing any more," she said. "I love my neighborhood and I love my neighbors and I don't want to move -- and I can't move. SWEPCO can move. They don't have to do this."
Feltman warned that the project will "kill the river and tourist economy and drive down the value of all our land and homes and the quality of our water."
"Our land has bears and bobcats and eagles and herons and panthers and bats -- I didn't even count the little things you know -- and caves and Indian bluff shelters chock-full of artifacts -- you should come visit and I'll show you some artifacts," Feltman told the judge. "But you just couldn't pick a more inappropriate spot to eviscerate and poison.
"If SWEPCO thinks they've just got to have this dinosaur, they need to pick somewhere that's already ruined," she said, prompting laughs in the audience of about 150 people. "A bunch of us found paradise. This is the end of the line. You'll be gutting one of the last sweet spots between the Appalachians and the Rockies."
Feltman said she "cobbled together" enough panels to live off solar power at her home, and she is "off the grid" and has been for years.
"I've got electricity coming out of my ears. I can't use it all up," she said emphatically. "Every winter I can tell when it goes out in the neighborhood because I can hear George Butler's generator kick on. Mine's never gone out. It's never run short. And it's no maintenance, hardly.
"They wouldn't even have to fix those lines if they'd just leave some solar panels on folks' houses. I paid for my land being a farm laborer. I don't have as much education as them and I ain't that stupid," she finished, as the audience reacted with another round of laughter.