SWEPCO seeks APSC rehearing

Tuesday, March 18, 2014 ~ Updated 9:46 AM

EUREKA SPRINGS -- Southwestern Electric Power Co. on Friday filed with the Arkansas Public Service Commission a request for a limited rehearing, asking the APSC to reconsider whether its proposed Route 33 is unreasonable, as was ruled by the commission's administrative law judge seven weeks ago.

Grassroots opposition group Save The Ozarks is expected to file a petition for a full rehearing by Thursday's deadline. STO maintains its argument that SWEPCO failed to show a need for the power line and that SWEPCO's Environmental Impact Study was deeply flawed.

APSC Administrative Law Judge Connie Griffin announced her approval of SWEPCO's project in Orders 32 and 33 following the utility's April 2013 application to construct about 50 miles of 340,000 Volt transmission lines, each 150 feet tall and requiring an herbicide-cleared right-of-way 150 feet wide along the route.

Order 32, issued by Griffin on Jan. 17 of this year, granted SWEPCO approval of its application but only along Route 109, its least-favored route and the one that goes through two southern Missouri counties as well as Benton and Carroll counties. The Missouri portion of the route is proving a challenge as lawmakers in that state immediately began to fight the proposal in the state Legislature.

Order 33, issued by Griffin on Jan. 21, stated that the two remaining route alternatives, Routes 33 and 108, were "not reasonable."

In its pleading entered Friday, SWEPCO asks for a limited rehearing only on the subjects of the selection of Route 109 and the deeming of Route 33 as unreasonable. The utility also is asking for clarification of some of the judge's directives in Order 32.

"They want a rehearing limited specifically to Route 33 and whether it is reasonable," explained Pat Costner, founder and director of grassroots opposition group Save The Ozarks. "They do not want the whole ball of wax reconsidered."

Previously, SWEPCO asked for a similar "do-over" on the issue of whether the new power line is needed, she said, and they were allowed it in a sort of "back-door maneuver" with paperwork, Costner noted.

"So if history repeats itself, the commissioners will likely give SWEPCO a do-over regarding the selection of its preferred path, Route 33," Costner said. "We may all have to take another trip to Little Rock."

The commissioners must rule on SWEPCO's request within 30 days, under the law.

The petition for a rehearing from SWEPCO was expected, Costner noted.

"This doesn't change STO's course. We gave the APSC sound evidence that there is no public need for this project," said the former Greenpeace scientist. "We documented numerous omissions and factual errors in SWEPCO's application, and we showed that SWEPCO failed to meet a substantial list of legal standards. APSC dismissed all of this. Now we will file a petition for a full rehearing with the APSC because this is a requirement for filing a petition for review with the Arkansas State Court of Appeals."

STO is expected to file a petition for a rehearing this week, according to Costner.

Save the Ozarks board member Doug Stowe said, "SWEPCO is demanding a resurrection of Route 33. Their power-line proposal deserved to be a dead horse from the get-go. We keep trying to bury it 'cause it stinks, and they keep flogging it in the hopes it will neigh, bray and run rough-shod across the Ozarks. This matter is far from over."

Meanwhile, in Missouri, efforts continue at the State Capitol to block approval of the Missouri portion of Route 109.

Four bills have now been introduced before the Missouri Legislature that would halt SWEPCO's plans to build a 345 kV electric transmission line along its proposed Route 109 through Carroll and Benton counties in Arkansas and McDonald and Barry counties in southern Missouri.

Two of the bills, HB 2092 and SB 839, have not yet had their required public hearings.

But the other two of the bills -- one dealing removing authority from the Missouri Public Service Commission to OK the project and another limiting utilities' power of eminent domain -- were the focus of public hearings before Missouri's House Utilities Committee on March 5.

Next, HB 1622 and HB 1774, respectively, are due to be voted on by the full committee and, if passed, then brought up for debate on the House floor, lawmakers told the Lovely County Citizen last week. The Legislature is on spring break, so a vote on the bills won't likely occur until next week or even later, they said.

The sponsor of the two bills, Missouri State Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, presented both pieces of legislation to the House Utilities Committee last week, but his favorite is HB 1774, which would restrict the ability of SWEPCO to use eminent domain in order to acquire property from landowners along the proposed route.

If that bill were to pass, SWEPCO would be required to negotiate with individual property owners, without the threat of eminent domain being used against the landowners.

"HB 1774 seems to be the more palatable option, as opposed to HB 1622, because several members of the committee were concerned with removing the jurisdiction of the PSC to make decisions regarding the project," Fitzpatrick said. "Under HB 1774, the PSC would still have the ability to make a decision on the project, but it would protect property owners in the event the PSC approved the project."

Missouri State Sen. David Sater has filed an identical bill in the Senate, which should receive a hearing in the next couple of weeks, likely right after the Legislature's break, Sater said.

To this point, there has been no action taken by SWEPCO to move forward with the project in Missouri -- likely because it still prefers Route 33, as evidenced by its petition for a rehearing last Friday before the APSC. The power company has not filed the necessary paperwork to begin the approval process with the Missouri Public Service Commission, which would be the first step in the process.

Editor's note: For details on STO's rehearing request -- check out the March 21 Weekend edition of Carroll County News.

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