SWEPCO drops three of six proposed routes: Power company asks state to no longer consider routes closest to Eureka

Friday, July 26, 2013

EUREKA SPRINGS -- Southwestern Electric Power Co., in a filing with the Arkansas Public Service Commission last Friday, "revised its rankings" of its six alternative routes -- basically withdrawing the three closest to Eureka Springs -- for the proposed Shipe Road-Kings River 345,000-Volt transmission line project in Benton and Carroll counties.

Though a spokesman said it had placed three of the six that were closest to town at the bottom of their list of routes in their application for approval, the filing itself says that SWEPCO "recommends Routes 62, 86 and 91 be removed from consideration" -- unless the APSC denies the remaining three routes, in which case the three withdrawn will be again considered, the filing says.

The change was announced in testimony filed by Brian Johnson on behalf of SWEPCO that was a "rebuttal" of comments made by area residents at last week's public hearings. Johnson was one of five energy experts who filed rebuttals on behalf of SWEPCO, and the rebuttals attempt to explain SWEPCO's responses to nearly every reason given by area residents for not approving the project as a whole.

Carroll County's two state legislators said the move by SWEPCO further confirmed their suspicions about the company's intentions and tactics.

They said that had SWEPCO proposed just one route, it would be more likely that area residents would join forces to oppose the entire project. But with six proposed routes -- three of which they now acknowledge are unworkable for reasons that were obvious from the get-go, noted one legislator -- it was far more likely that residents would be more concerned about their individual property rights -- the "Not In My Back Yard" theory.

Then, instead of a mass of opposition to the entire project, SWEPCO would like be facing a lot of bickering residents who each opposed the route closest to their property, said state Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest.

"Part of my original concern about this project was the way (power companies) do these things and have so many proposed routes," said state Sen. Bryan King, R-Carroll County, "when you'd think some of them have no chance of getting approved. The result is it divides the people."

If that were to have occurred, SWEPCO wouldn't be fighting to prove the project was needed in the first place, as it currently is, King and others noted. That question would more than likely be a moot point -- approval of the project as whole would be assumed -- as the focus became which route would be approved, says opposition group Save The Ozarks.

State Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Green Forest -- who said at a forum in Berryville Thursday evening that he has not yet decided whether to oppose SWEPCO's transmission line -- told Carroll County News that SWEPCO apparently didn't expect was the strength of community in Carroll County and particularly in the Eureka Springs area.

SWEPCO likely expected many if not most of the residents who testified at the public hearings to offer their reasons for opposing the route closest to their homes, both lawmakers said. That didn't happen.

In fact, nearly every one of the 229 people who spoke in opposition at the July 15-16 APSC public hearings clearly stated they oppose the entire project -- not just one route or the other.

"Historically, the way it usually breaks down is there seems to be opponents for each route, and eventually what happens is that people are protecting their own property from the closest proposed route and saying the other routes are OK," explained Ballinger. "But that didn't happen here. SWEPCO ran into a sort of 'Perfect Storm' when they started trying to go through Eureka. The people of Eureka Springs have a lot of passion and know how to get organized -- and SWEPCO ran into something I don't think they ever anticipated."

SWEPCO acknow-ledged in an email to CCN on Wednesday that it was -- at least in part -- the overwhelming public outcry of opposition that changed their plans:

"As a result of information gathered from numerous public and governmental commenters, and testimony of intervenors, SWEPCO now considers Routes 62, 86 and 91 to be the least favored routes," SWEPCO spokesman Peter Main told the Carroll County News. "SWEPCO's rebuttal testimony notes opposition to any transmission lines in close proximity to Thorncrown Chapel, Inspiration Point and historic downtown Eureka Springs."

Accordingly, those three routes are being put at the bottom of the list -- which, in one SWEPCO filing, indicates the routes are, for now anyway, out of the question.

Johnson wrote in his rebuttal testimony:

"SWEPCO recommends that Routes 62, 86 and 91 be removed from further consideration unless and until the Commission determines that neither Routes 33, 109 nor 108 are reasonable. In that event, SWEPCO would initiate a renewed consideration of easements for Routes 62, 86 and 91 with the Corps of Engineers. ... SWEPCO continues to assert that its proposed Route 33 is a reasonable route and thus should be approved by the Commission."

Now, noted Ballinger, there is the possibility that the residents living along the routes that were dropped will lose enthusiasm and activism in opposing the entire project. He said he hopes that does not happen.

"Now there is a danger of losing some of the passion among the opposition," he said. "The opposition will likely lose some of the people who were so opposed to it. The route they called the biggest evil has gone away, and opponents may be less likely to give money or time to the cause."

Editor's note: For a complete report on Thursday evening's forum in Berryville, check out Tuesday's Carroll County News.

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