Wednesday, January 22, 2014
In April 2013, we were shocked by the lack of thoroughness in the AEP/SWEPCO Environmental Impact Statement. There was scarcely any mention of our dependence on tourism or that scenic beauty is essential to our economy. There was no analysis of economic impact on our small local communities as required by law. There was scarcely any mention of the endangered species. There was no mention of bald eagles or their nests. Each of the proposed routes was an assault on our environment and our sensibilities. We wondered how anyone in his or her right mind could be so blind to the beauty of our environment or so callous in a willingness to destroy it.
As state and federal agencies began to weigh in with their opinions of the project and proposed routes, they too, expressed concerns over extreme inaccuracies and lack of thoroughness of the Environmental Impact Statement offered by AEP/SWEPCO. We were mistaken in assuming that the opinions of those agencies with regard to the poor quality EIS might make any difference at all to the Arkansas Public Service Commission.
In Judge Griffin’s ruling, she notes that the APSC has much lower standards for an Environmental Impact Statement, and in her view, the EIS submitted by AEP/SWEPCO was “sufficient.”
And yet, in considering the area of Northwest Arkansas that most regard as the jewel in the crown of Arkansas tourism, is the APSC’s idea of sufficient, sufficient?
During the hearing in Little Rock, biologist Stephen Thornhill, testifying for SWEPCO, was forced to admit the process he used to eliminate serious concerns from the EIS. Mention of Bald eagles? Delete. Analysis of impact on tourism? Delete. Mention of the Military Park and Pea Ridge or the Trail of Tears? Delete. Mention of karst terrain, or concern for endangered bats and cave habitat? Delete most of that, too.
By purposeful deletion, SWEPCO had the ability to misrepresent to the APSC the probable impact of their power line, present a rosy picture to the state of Arkansas that they knew to be untrue, and attempted to slide by with an EIS intended to meet the barest possible standard of “sufficiency.” The EIS was intentionally designed to be as lacking in thoroughness as humanly possible and to fool the judge, which in this case they seem to have done.
What the judge seems to have missed in her review of the EIS is not whether or not it is thorough enough to meet APSC low standards of sufficiency, but whether or not it is honest enough in its intent to meet common standards of moral decency or the standards set by state law. And the EIS submitted by AEP/SWEPCO, in this case, was not. It was carefully crafted from the outset to minimalize concerns and marginalize the citizens of Northwest Arkansas.
Due to the judge’s selection of Route 109 as her preferred route, the citizens of Missouri will also have the opportunity to weigh in on whether or not this power line is built. We were caught by AEP/SWEPCO’s proposal like small furry animals in a steel trap, but have made certain that residents of Missouri are forewarned and able to defend their own communities against AEP/SWEPCO’s wrongful plans.
In addition, testimony at the hearing in Little Rock proved that the Shipes Road to Kings River power line is only one small part of a much larger network of high voltage power lines that will do nothing but harm to our small local communities. With that evidence we plan to assist others in standing up to AEP/SWEPCO’s unwarranted transmission expansion plans.
We hoped for a better ruling from Judge Griffin. The commission may overrule the judge at any time in the next 30 days to propose their own solution. In any case, we will continue to oppose SWEPCO’s plans. We insist that the APSC be required to assess the honesty of Environmental Impact Statements in addition to their “sufficiency.” If that requires the court of appeals to provide justice, so be it. That seems to be where we’re headed next.
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