It’s a waiting game this week, say Missouri landowners, lawmakers and an Arkansas group that has campaigned for the past year to stop a 345,000-volt transmission line from being built.
The line is to be built by Arkansas-based Southwestern Electric Power Co. and would cross 164 properties in McDonald and Barry counties in addition to a similar number of properties in Benton and Carroll counties in Arkansas, according to Save the Ozarks, a group of residents who are fighting the transmission line.
“Right now it’s just wait and see,” said McDonald County Commissioner John Bunch. “Of course we’re as anxious as everyone to get something finalized so we know where we stand and what we need to do.”
The Missouri House utilities committee is slated to hear HB 1622 on Wednesday morning, a bill introduced by Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, of Shell Knob, Mo., after an Arkansas judge and the Arkansas Public Service Commission gave the green light to the transmission line crossing 25 miles in McDonald and Barry counties.
The bill specifies that the General Assembly will have sole jurisdiction over construction of any electric transmission line that begins and ends in a single state other than Missouri and passes through certain areas in the counties of McDonald and Barry specified in the bill.
Another bill sponsored by Southwest Missouri lawmakers in response to the line’s approval also awaits action.
Last week, SB 839 sponsored by Sen. David Sater, of Cassville, had a second reading and was referred to the Senate commerce, consumer protection, energy and environment committee. The bill would prohibit SWEPCO from using eminent domain, meaning the company would be unable to forcibly take the land needed for construction of the transmission line. Instead, it would have to get the approval of every land owner along the route. Those landowners could refuse to sell their land and the Arkansas PSC and SWEPCO would be forced to look for an alternate route.
Opponents of the transmission line, meanwhile, are gearing up to participate in a peaceful protest next week in Rogers, Ark., and are providing landowners with documents designed to slow construction.
“We are encouraging landowners to personalize a form letter denying trespassing by SWEPCO and to send it via certified mail to SWEPCO’s attorney and to SWEPCO,” said Pat Costner with Save the Ozarks.
The letter is based on Arkansas Code 5-39-203. It directs SWEPCO to first obtain the permission of landowners by completing four steps, starting with sending a request for entry by certified mail. The landowner then has 30 days to reply with a “Hold Harmless Agreement.”
The landowner then has another 30 days in which to notify SWEPCO of dates and times that he or she, or a designated representative, will be available to accompany company officials onto the property. After an agreed-upon time, company officials must present state-approved photo identification to the landowner to gain entrance.
Violating the code could be a Class C misdemeanor or Class B misdemeanor, depending on whether the land is vacant, has crops or fencing, and other variables. In Arkansas, the penalty for a Class C misdemeanor is up to 30 days in jail and a possible fine of up to $500. The penalty for a Class B misdemeanor is up to 90 days in jail and a possible fine of up to $1,000. In Missouri, the penalties range from a $200 fine and no jail time to up to a $500 fine and six months in jail.
“They aren’t large penalties, but you can make a flap about it, for sure. That’s always worth doing,” Costner said.
Save the Ozarks also has begun work on a petition for a rehearing with the Arkansas Public Service Commission, a petition the group must file by March 20, and plans to partner with the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance next week for a peaceful protest at the 40th Annual Arkansas Governor’s Conference on Tourism in Rogers, Ark.
Opponents to the project have said it will negatively impact not just the environment, but tourism potential in the Ozarks.
“We’re working with them now to set it up so we can both do that and support each other,” Costner said of the partnership with the Buffalo River group. “We also are working with Missouri landowners to drum up louder political support for the legislators who put forward their bill to stop this.”
SWEPCO officials have said the company would file for permission from the Missouri Public Service Commission to build the line in Missouri, but as of Monday SWEPCO had not done so, according to MPSC spokesman Kevin Kelly.