Friday, January 17, 2014
Arkansas Public Service Commission (ASPC) Administrative Law Judge Connie Griffin filed an order late Friday that gives the green light to American Electric Power (AEP) subsidiary Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO) to construct and operate a new 345 kilovolt (kV) transmission line from the Shipe Road station to the proposed Kings River Station, and to build a new $20-million 345 kV station on SWEPCO-owned property next to the King’s River northwest of Berryville.
The big surprise wasn’t that the judge recommended approval of a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need (CECPN) for SWEPCO, but that she recommended Route 109, the northernmost route that goes through Missouri. That route is still opposed by local residents because of negative impacts to Carroll County. But Route 109 would save the communities of Pea Ridge, Gateway and Garfield from having a large power line down the center of their towns, and would avoid impacts to the Pea Ridge Military Park.
Route 109 goes north from Shipe Road station to Missouri, and then east along the Missouri state line to north of Gateway and then crosses the White River south of the town of Beaver before going southeast paralleling the Kings River for two miles before it crosses the river near the proposed new Kings River substation. That line is 56 miles long, and SWEPCO earlier had said it would have difficulty obtaining permission for the project from Missouri officials because of the lack of benefit to Missouri.
SWEPCO’s preferred route, the green line, Route 33, goes 48.4 miles east from the Shipe Road station following US Hwy. 62 through Pea Ridge, Garfield and Gateway, and then parallels Route 109 through Beaver before going southeast to the Kings River station.
Griffin’s 118-page order granting the CECPN was filed on the website of the APSC on the project that drew widespread and heated opposition – nearly unanimous in Carroll County – on the grounds that the power line would greatly harm property values, tourism economy and the environment of Northwest Arkansas. About 6,000 public comments were sent to the APSC opposing the project.
Pat Costner, director of the citizen group Save The Ozarks (STO) that oversaw a major campaign opposing the power line, said the group plans a legal appeal if the final decision of the Commission is to approve the project.
“Are we disappointed? Of course,” Costner said. “Are we defeated? By no stretch of the imagination. We just have to roll up our sleeves and keep at it. It is time to get back in the trenches. We will take every step we need to take in order to perfect an appeal.”
Doug Stowe, a STO board member, said he was disappointed that the judge was convinced that the power line is needed – an assertion STO denies. But he said the ruling is not a complete victory for SWEPCO because it creates a regulatory conundrum.
“There is some question because SWEPCO is not licensed as a utility in Missouri,” Stowe said. “State public service commissions don’t like to approve major projects that don’t provide value to their residents. It would trample through their forest and properties with no benefit to them. It would be like having a superhighway with no on ramp or off ramp in the State of the Missouri. So it makes it of questionable value to Missouri. The project may be held back for a while because SWEPCO will have to gain regulatory permission from the State of Missouri.”
The judge’s order goes to the three-member commission of the APSC, which can accept, modify or reject the order. If the three commissioners do nothing, the order becomes final in 30 days.
Costner said STO has laid a firm groundwork for an appeal, including filing expert witness testimony that the line is not needed and that the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was seriously flawed.
SWEPCO said the proposed facilities “will provide increased reliability and overload relief in eastern Benton County and Carroll County.” Opponents have alleged that the purpose of the massive industrial power line that would blight some of the most scenic areas in Northwest Arkansas isn’t to help Benton or Carroll County, but to facilitate profits for SWEPCO.
Read the 118 page Judge's decision to ASPC here: http://www.apscservices.info/pdf/13/13-041-u_427_1.pdf
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