By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
EUREKA SPRINGS, Ark. —
An electric transmission line proposed along the Missouri-Arkansas border drew such an outpouring of comment during public hearings this week that state regulators are urging those who still want to weigh in to go to their website and leave their remarks.
“Those comments ... will receive equal consideration to the comments made at the public hearings,” said John Bethel, executive director of the Arkansas Public Service Commission.
Two public hearings this week in Eureka Springs and Rogers each drew hundreds of people who wanted to be heard before the Southwestern Electric Power Co. proceeds with its 48-mile transmission line.
The utility has proposed six different routes that run through Benton and Carroll or Washington and Madison counties.
Between the two hearings, nearly 400 people signed up to speak. PSC Administrative Law Judge Connie Griffin urged people to go to the website of the Arkansas Public Service Commission and leave their comment. That website is www.arkansas.gov/psc. They can click on a button for public comment on the right side and enter case No. 13-041-U.
Testimony began Monday morning in Eureka Spring and originally was scheduled to conclude at 4 p.m. Tuesday, but that was extended until 9:15 p.m. Tuesday. The hearings also were extended into the evening in Rogers on Wednesday.
The majority of those who spoke opposed either a specific route or the entire proposal, which would have 160-foot tall transmission towers placed every 800 feet, and leave a 150-foot clearcut beneath the line. Many of those who spoke cited the destruction of natural beauty, fears over the use of herbicides, and the loss of tourism dollars at sites along or near one of the proposed routes, including Thorncrown Chapel and Pea Ridge National Military Park.
Peter Main, spokesperson for the Southwest Electric Power Co., known as SWEPCO, said that while none of the six proposed routes is without an impact, the lines are needed to serve fast-growing Northwest Arkansas. He also said the 345,000-volt transmission line has been mandated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Ilene Powell, spokesperson for Save the Ozarks, which has organized opposition to the proposed transmission line, said Griffin took “extraordinary measures to extend the times of sessions and the standard 3-minute time limit for speakers.”
Bethel said public comment will be taken until the end of an evidentiary hearing that is set to begin on Aug. 26 in Little Rock. He said the hearing is expected to take several days. A decision is expected no later than 60 days after the end of that hearing.