JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. —
Southwest Missouri lawmakers introduced a bill in the House this week that could block a power company from building a 340,000-volt transmission line through two Missouri counties.
It likely won’t get any further than committee, one lawmaker said, but it made a statement and “began an important discussion.”
“It exists to prove the absurdity of the situation,” said Rep. Bill Lant, who is from Pineville and represents Newton and McDonald counties.
The bill’s introduction came 12 days after an Arkansas judge gave the green light to Southwestern Electric Power Co., a subsidiary of American Electric Power, to build the line along Route 109.
Spanning 25 miles in Southwestern Missouri and 31 in Northwestern Arkansas, Route 109 begins in Benton County, Ark., goes north to cross the southern reaches of McDonald and Barry counties in Missouri, then turns south to reach its endpoint near Berryville in Carroll County, Ark.
The route was among six possible routes identified last year by the Arkansas-based SWEPCO. The company’s 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 to Arkansas customers.
Throughout a year’s worth of public hearings and petitioning by opponents, Route 109 was the route consistently identified as the least preferred by SWEPCO. No Missouri property owners were notified by letter, as Arkansas landowners were, that their properties would be traversed should such a route be approved.
After the judge’s decision, Lant said that he, Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, who is from Shell Knob and represents Barry, Lawrence and Stone counties, and Sen. David Sater, who is from Cassville and represents Barry, Lawrence, McDonald, Stone and Taney counties, met with members of the Missouri Public Service Commission to express their displeasure with the decision.
On Wednesday, Fitzpatrick introduced House Bill 1622, with Lant’s endorsement, that specifies the Missouri Public Service Commission “shall lack jurisdiction over certain electrical facilities.”
“Rep. Fitzpatrick, when he proposed the bill, primarily he did for the shock value,” Lant said. “He wanted to create a discussion, and it has certainly done that.”
Fitzpatrick, who was traveling by airplane Friday, attempted to return calls from the Globe, but a connection was not made.
The bill states that “the Missouri Public Service commission shall lack jurisdiction to approve the construction of any electric facilities to be built in accordance with Arkansas Public Service Commission Order 33, Docket Number 13-041-U, authorizing Route 109 as a ‘reasonable route’ for the construction of new three hundred forty-five kilovolt electric transmission lines.”
“The way it was written was a very narrow way of writing. It would preclude anyone from building a power line through Barry County and McDonald County,” Lant said.
Lant said he doesn’t know if the bill is the solution to what could impact more than 100 Missouri landowners, “but it’s certainly a start.”
According to Lant, Southwest Missouri lawmakers plan to meet on Monday or Tuesday and draft additional legislation pertaining to eminent domain that might have a shot of passing committee and eventually gaining the governor’s approval.
Pat Costner, who spearheads Save The Ozarks, a grass-roots group that has waged a campaign against SWEPCO’s proposed power lines, said several Missouri landowners attended an STO meeting in Eureka Springs on Thursday night after becoming alerted by newspaper articles.
“Several from Missouri spoke with me and to the meeting as a whole about the House bill,” Costner said.
Costner said the group’s next steps are to apply for a rehearing with the APSC, which must be done by Feb. 17 and to file an appeal by March 17. The APSC has 30 days after that in which to file the case record with the Court of Appeals. The court may render its decision at its discretion, but in past such cases has taken about 10 months.
The three-member Arkansas commission also has 30 days from the judge’s order in which to approve it, modify it or say nothing — which also would indicate approval.
Rep. Bill Lant, who is from Pineville, said that at some point, the matter could be a federal decision rather than one for a state.