The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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January 17, 2014

Judge gives SWEPCO green light for controversial power line

Arkansas Public Service Commission Administrative Law Judge Connie Griffin filed an order Friday night, within hours of a deadline set 60 days ago, that gives the go-ahead to Southwestern Electric Power Co. to build a 345,000-volt transmission line through northern Arkansas and into southern Missouri.

Her order still must be approved by the three-member commission, which has 30 days to do so.

SWEPCO officials said such a line is needed to alleviate concerns with possible future overload.

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 in Arkansas by June 2016 to improve reliability.

“We recognize that any transmission facilities are going to have impacts,” Main told the Globe. “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.”

At 150-foot tall and with six towers per mile, with 150-foot-wide rights-of-way, the proposed line drew heated controversy throughout the Ozarks last year — particularly in the Eureka Springs area where opponents mobilized and waged a vocal campaign against it.

SWEPCO’s preferred route was Route 33, which ran from the Shipe Road Substation in Benton County to the proposed Kings River Substation in Carroll County. It went between Bella Vista and Bentonville, passed the southern edge of Pea Ridge Battlefield historic site, crossed the White River, and passed by Lake Leatherwood and the northern edge of Eureka Springs.

The second-most and third-most preferred routes closely paralleled and sometimes shared the same path as Route 33. The fourth choice passed Thorncrown Chapel. The fifth choice — Route 109 — entered the southern edge of Stone and Barry counties in Missouri. The sixth choice passed south of Beaver Lake, then tracked northeast toward the south edge of Eureka Springs.

It was Route 109 that Griffin ultimately approved. Running from the Shipe Road Station for about 25 miles along the Missouri-Arkansas border and ending south of Seligman, it was perhaps the least discussed route throughout the proceedings.

No public hearings were held in Barry or McDonald counties and neither SWEPCO nor the Arkansas Public Service Commission posted public notifications in Missouri newspapers.

Public hearings were held in Eureka Springs and Rogers, Ark., where hundreds turned out to give comment in opposition to the line. About 6,000 public comments were sent to the APSC opposing the project, and 40 to 45 petitioners included the cities of Eureka Springs, Bentonville, Springdale, Gateway and Garfield.

The subject of their concern was hundreds of privately owned properties the line might cross, as well as features and attractions it might pass, including 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 and the Christ of the Ozarks statue viewpoints.

At risk, opponents told Griffin, were not just views but an economy based largely on tourism, property values and the environment.

Sen. David Sater, who represents Barry, Lawrence, McDonald, Stone and Taney counties in Missouri, said publicly in October that should Route 109 be pursued, he would work with local officials and members of the Missouri Legislature to determine the best way to oppose it.

Pat Costner, director of the group Save The Ozarks that waged a major campaign against it, remained optimistic Friday night and said the group plans a legal appeal.

“Are we disappointed?” Costner said in a phone interview. “Yes. Are we defeated? By no means.”

Costner owns 135 acres of preserved Ozark forest through which Route 109 will pass.

“It would be within a few hundred feet of my house, and a number of other close friends and neighbors,” she said. “My objective when I bought this land was simply to preserve it, as is, and I have done that since 1974. I’ve put a lot of thought and energy into minimizing my impact.”

Griffin’s order next goes to the three-member commission of the APSC, which can either accept, modify or reject the order. If it does nothing, the order becomes final in 30 days.

Costner said should the panel approve the order, she is confident her group will file for both a rehearing and an appeal.

“I believe those things can take place more or less simultaneously,” she said. “There are issues of law. From our perspective there were issues of law — that the law was not followed in any number of ways.”

Costner said she is confident about an appeal because of expert witness testimony that the line is not needed, and that the Environmental Impact Statement is seriously flawed.

Order

Arkansas Public Service Commission Administrative Law Judge Connie Griffin’s 118-page order granting the line was filed on the website of the APSC and can be viewed at www.arkansas.gov/psc/.

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