Save The Ozarks asks commission to toss SWEPCO request

Friday, August 1, 2014

Save The Ozarks on Tuesday asked the Arkansas Public Service Commission to immediately deny Southwestern Electric Power Co.'s proposal to construct a high-voltage power line that would run through Carroll and Benton counties.

The request, made by STO attorney Mick Harrison of Bloomington, Ind., in a letter to APSC Secretary Michael Sappington, came in response to SWEPCO's announcement that it would need several months to comply with the commission's request for more evidence to support its proposal.

The APSC had initially approved the project, but later reversed that decision and said it would conduct a second hearing on the issue.

In a July 3 letter to the commission, an attorney representing SWEPCO said the company would submit more evidence in support of its proposal -- but not until January 2015.

"STO respectfully suggests that the commission consider a different procedural approach," Harrison wrote in Tuesday's letter. "In light of the commission's findings, the appropriate approach is for the commission to deny SWEPCO's application now and close the current docket, and for SWEPCO to re-apply to the commission for whatever new project, if any, SWEPCO concludes in the future is supported by the results of its yet to be completed studies."

STO contends that SWEPCO's intentions to delay submitting the requested information to the ASPC is unfair to property owners who could be affected by the power-line project.

"SWEPCO, its parent company, American Electric Power, and other utility companies are trying to cope with rising costs and electricity sales that have been dropping all across the country for the past seven years," STO Director Pat Costner said in a press release. "In this situation, it seems unlikely that a restudy will make a credible case that SWEPCO should continue to propose a 345 kV transmission line or even any new transmission line. Meanwhile, hundreds of landowners and business owners have been facing loss of both their property and property values for more than 16 months. Their ordeal will continue for another year or more if the commission continues proceedings while SWEPCO conducts its new evaluations."

"Save the Ozarks maintains that the approach proposed by SWEPCO is not reasonable in light of the constraints and uncertainties that landowners affected by this proposal have suffered since SWEPCO submitted its application," Harrison wrote. "Landowners have been facing loss of both property and property values. Many have held back on implementing plans they had for their properties -- dreams have been held in abeyance. If the commission continues proceedings in this docket while SWEPCO conducts its new evaluations, this ordeal landowners have been enduring will continue for another year or more. Because the commission's findings equate to a finding that SWEPCO could not meet its burden to justify the application that it submitted for a new 345kV transmission line, STO requests that the commission deny SWEPCO's current application rather than keeping this docket open."

Should the commission opt to keep the case open, Harrison requested that STO be given several months to review and respond to whatever new evidence SWEPCO eventually submits. If that request is not granted, Harrison asks that the commission instruct SWEPCO to provide STO with documentation as it is prepared before being submitted to the commission.

"In addition, STO proposes, if the commission declines to accept STO's primary recommendation stated at the beginning of this letter that the commission deny SWEPCO's original application now and close this docket, that the commission order SWEPCO to reimburse STO's and the other intervenors' experts and attorneys' fees going forward," Harrison wrote.

"It is in everyone's best interests, even SWEPCO's, if the commission simply denies SWEPCO's application," Costner said. "People here can get on with their lives and, after the new studies are completed next year, SWEPCO can start over with a clean slate if they're still convinced there is a public need for a 345 kV transmission line."

SWEPCO's plans call for the 345,000-volt line to run from its Shipe Road station west of Centerton in Benton County to a proposed new station on the Kings River near Berryville.

The right-of-way for the transmission line, or the area to be clear-cut and then kept clear using herbicides, would be 150 feet wide and each tower would be between 130 and 160 feet tall.

The cost of the project cost is estimated at between $90 million and $117 million.

In its initial application, SWEPCO said it hoped to being constructing the line in March 2015 and begin use by June 2016.

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