Group defends the White River: Residents band together to fight proposed 345kV SWEPCO power line

Friday, July 19, 2013
Glen Sims welcomes a group of residents on July 10 to a meeting of the Friends of the White River, who are opposed to SWEPCO's proposed transmission line project. He summarized the group's position and then turned the meeting over to those who had prepared testimony for the hearings before the Arkansas Public Service Commission, which were held Monday and Tuesday in Eureka Springs.

EUREKA SPRINGS -- The group called Friends of the White River held a short meeting on July 10 to apprise local residents in the Eureka Springs West area about its efforts on behalf of stopping the 345 kV transmission line proposed by SWEPCO.

One of the group's organizers, Glen Sims, summarized the position of the group. He said it is not in opposition to the efforts of another large and vocal group opposed to the project, Save the Ozarks, but it has taken a "different approach," focusing mainly on the White River as it would affected by SWEPCO's proposed Route 62/86 and segments AN and AO.

This route would come over the hill at Dinosaur World to Ward Road continue on Hwy. 62 north of White River Bridge, go along the banks of the White River 1.75 miles up to Inspiration Point and below Wolf Ridge and Lake Leatherwood, then on to Berryville.

FOTWR has filed as an intervener under the name Intervener Sims in the hearings before the Arkansas Public Service Commission. It protests the route on the basis of recreational, economic and environmental impacts to the White River area, Sims said. The group has hired an attorney to plead their case.

Four members of the group gave synopses of their written testimony. Dr. James Helwig, a geologist, said he had done extensive fieldwork and mapping of the proposed area. His findings show that water levels recorded by residents in the Cherokee Crossing area in the 2008 and 2011 flooding indicate that transmission line poles will be in the water should such flooding occur again. He mapped five landslides in the Inspiration Point and Wolf Ridge area. He said one of the routes crosses directly over a landslide.

"The terrain in this area is very unstable and presents a clear and substantial hazard to construction and maintenance of the line," he wrote. He said that four of the five landslides "occur in areas of disturbance by construction eight or more years ago."

Wanda Kertzman, who owns an antique business at Inspiration Point, pointed out that Carroll County was the fourth most visited county in Arkansas in 2012 and generated $172 million in tourist dollars, equal to 66 percent of similar income in Benton County, "which has a population more than 10 times as great and enjoys the popularity of Crystal Bridges Museum."

She said tourism will be heavily affected by people seeing the line because of its proximity to tourist lodging, and those who fish and float the White River will have to pass under the line.

Carla Short, who owns a resort and float business, said there is an active Bald Eagle nest, located near Inspiration Point, which has been verified by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The nest would be less than 200 meters from the transmission line, and there are other nests in the White River Valley.

"We have been working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and have learned that we possibly have Indiana bats, cave fish and an endangered woodpecker," she said. "We will be working to turn this into a conservation area."

Dr. Patricia Helwig, also a geologist and paleontologist, said her testimony has been withdrawn because it was based on the federal designation of the White River as a Blueway, which was recently withdrawn after numerous protests from Northwest Arkansas and Southwest Missouri groups as well as elected officials.

Helwig called the withdrawal of the designation "sad."

"The very criteria that led to the Blueway designation and concerns for conservation are now threatened, while ironically accepting habitat destruction and condemnation of our property for an unneeded power line."

Kertzman said SWEPCO has made a request of the APSC judge that those who have submitted written testimony or affidavits already not be allowed to speak at the APSC hearings. But Administrative Law Judge Connie Griffin allowed everyone to speak who wished to.

Those who wish to read the full testimony of the Sims interveners can visit www.apscservices.info, Docket No. 13-041-U, and refer to 163, 165, 166 and 167.

More information on FOTWR can be found at their website www.friendsofthewhiteriver.org.

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