LITTLE ROCK, Ark. —
The Arkansas Public Service Commission will hear from those opposed to and those in favor of a proposed high-voltage transmission line during a public evidentiary hearing slated to begin at 9:30 a.m. Monday in Little Rock.
The 345,000-volt transmission line, proposed by Southwestern Electric Power Co., or SWEPCO, would be 48 miles long with 150-foot-tall towers. Attractions that would be affected include Inspiration Point at the White River, Pea Ridge National Military Park, the Razorback Greenway, Thorncrown Chapel, views from the Historic Beaver Town Bridge, Lake Leatherwood, Beaver Lake, the Christ of the Ozarks statue and other highly scenic viewpoints, in addition to several hundred privately owned properties.
The proposed line has generated heated controversy in the Ozarks, particularly in the Eureka Springs area, where opponents mobilized and waged a vocal campaign against it this summer. Public hearings were held in Eureka Springs and Rogers, Ark., where hundreds turned out to give comment in opposition to the line.
Those who are against the line say it will spoil the beauty and grandeur of the Ozark Mountains permanently and will hurt the environment and tourism.
A common refrain during the hearings was “it’s not needed.” Many who protested the line said it would not serve the 10,000 households in Carroll County but instead was designed by SWEPCO as a connection to Springfield, Mo.
In a previous interview, SWEPCO spokesman Peter Main said the Southwest Power Pool, of which SWEPCO is a part, mandated the utility build a line from Benton County through Carroll County by June 2016 to improve reliability.
“We recognize that any transmission facilities are going to have impacts,” Main said. “It’s a balancing of those impacts and our job in recommending a route and identifying alternates is to look at those criteria and take them into consideration.”
Administrative Law Judge Connie Griffin, who presided over the public hearings in Eureka Springs and Rogers, also will preside over the hearing on Monday. It is expected to continue for several days if not the entire week, officials said.
People who offered comments at public comment meetings in Eureka Springs and Rogers will not be allowed to comment again at Monday’s hearing; those who do make comments will be limited to three minutes.
According to the hearing’s schedule, Southwestern Electric Power Co., the Southwest Power Pool and the Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp. will present their case and expert witnesses, who will be subject to cross-examination by other intervenors.
Slated to testify after the public comments are those approved as official intervenors. They include representatives with Save the Ozarks; numerous individuals who live on or own property along the proposed routes; several municipalities along the proposed routes including Gateway, Garfield, Springdale and Cave Springs; Spider Creek Resort; and Wal-Mart.
ACCORDING TO the Arkansas Public Service Commission, Administrative Law Judge Connie Griffin’s decision is required to be issued within 60 days following the hearing. But the final decision will be made by the three-member commission, which can adopt Griffin’s decision as its own, overturn it, modify it or take no action. If the APSC takes no action, Griffin’s decision will become final after 30 days.