Power Line In Ozarks Prompts Firestorm

by Chris Bahn  on Monday, Aug. 19, 2013 12:00 am  

Swepco was ordered earlier this month to drop three alternative routes — Nos. 62, 86 and 91 — from its request. That leaves preferred route No. 33 and alternates Nos. 108 and 109 on the table. Opponents fear the lines could threaten attractions like Thorncrown Chapel (inset.) (Photo by BMcD, ESRI/Arkansas Parks & Tourism)

Embracing individuality is as much a part of living in Eureka Springs as enjoying the scenic beauty that surrounds the Carroll County town.

Artists and other freethinking creative types have for years made their home in the popular tourist destination. Doug Stowe is a local craftsman who has lived in Eureka Springs the past 38 years and knows that getting locals to reach a consensus on something can be next to impossible.

“Generally, you can get 10 people in a room and there will be 12 opinions,” Stowe said. “I’ve never seen the whole community come together the way they have now.”

Many of Eureka Springs’ approximately 2,100 residents have found common ground in their opposition to what Southwestern Electric Power Co. refers to as the “Shipe Road-Kings River 345-kV transmission project.” Simply put, it is a proposed $116.7 million upgrade to a regional power line that will run about 50 miles through portions of Carroll and Benton counties.

A final hearing on the line begins Aug. 26 in Little Rock, ending nearly five months of public comments and thousands of pages of testimony filed in response to Swepco’s request. Swepco, under the direction of Southwest Power Pool, asked the Arkansas Public Service Commission on April 3 to approve one of six power line routes to upgrade service for customers in portions of Arkansas and Missouri.

Stowe is among thousands of people who have voiced their opposition to the proposed line upgrades. Concerns range from diminished property values and health risks to fears of environmental and economic damage. In addition to concerns about the potential impact on scenic areas like Beaver Lake or the Kings River in northwest Arkansas, there are worries that power lines could affect tourist attractions near Eureka Springs like Thorncrown Chapel or the Great Passion Play.

John Bethel, executive director of the Arkansas Public Service Commission, said Swepco’s proposal has drawn among the greatest numbers of comments he can remember. As of press time, nearly 6,000 written comments had been submitted.

“We don’t have readily available records to say this is the most or the top 10,” Bethel said. “Over time there have been several that have generated quite a bit of comment. But what I’ve told people who ask is that this is certainly among the dockets that has generated a large number of comments.”

Individual landowners, concerned citizens and even municipalities like Eureka Springs and its city council have come out against the power line. Proponents of the line say that the project presents a delicate balancing act between what vocal members of the public want and what the general population needs. Failure to improve the infrastructure — think of it as Interstate 540 replacing old U.S. 71 as the preferred route to Fayetteville — will create an overload on the power supply in as little as three years.

“All transmission facilities have impacts,” said Swepco spokesman Peter Main. “The routing process is a matter of balancing those impacts and developing recommendations that have the best balance of those impacts. The regulatory review process also seeks to have the best balance between the needs for reliability for customers and the impacts in the areas where transmission facilities will be located.”

Challenging Process

Concerns regarding the proposed power line have stemmed primarily from two counties. Rogers and Eureka Springs each hosted a public hearing where residents voiced concern about a project that, if approved, could include more than 250 towers, some as tall as 160 feet, covering a 50-mile long, 150-foot wide path.



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