Wednesday, April 09, 2014
The Missouri Senate Environment Committee recently had a hearing on Senate Bill 839, the legislation proposed by State Sen. David Sater that would prohibit American Electric Power (AEP)/Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO) from using eminent domain for 25.5 miles of the Missouri route approved by the Arkansas Public Service Commission (APSC) for a new, high voltage power line.
Sater said he felt the committee hearing went well and was beneficial for committee members. The hearing was to discuss legislation designed to stop SWEPCO from rural, southern Barry and McDonald counties for transmission lines that would require cutting a 150-ft.-wide right of way for power poles 150 to 160 ft. tall.
“My 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,” Sater said. “Instead, it would have to get the approval of every landowner along the route.”
During the hearing there were questions about the necessity of running the line through Missouri when other more cost-effective and shorter routes are available in Arkansas.
“There was also concern that this would create a troubling precedent, by allowing another state to dictate transmission line routes in Missouri,” Sater said. “The fact is that most of the landowners affected by the construction of this line don’t even know someone might soon be coming to take their land. SWEPCO has held no public hearings in Barry or McDonald counties and no Missouri citizen would directly receive power from this line.
“It seems pretty obvious what we are dealing with here: We have one state that wants to avoid doing something unpopular so they are pushing off their problem on Missouri property owners instead of dealing with this in their own backyard. All three McDonald County commissioners testified in favor of the bill, as well as Reps. Fitzpatrick and Lant. All have been great allies in opposing this attack on our property rights. I look forward to the committee voting this bill out soon and sending it to the Senate floor for full debate.”
From the beginning, the power line opposition group Save The Ozarks has opposed all routes proposed for the project that STO experts have testified is not necessary. Doug Stowe, a member of the board of directors of STO, responded to Sater’s press release stating that Stowe understands the SWEPCO power line issue is a complex matter and it is far easier for Sater to stand up for property rights rather than to get into the heart of a complex matter.
“The truth is that the two power lines insisted upon by the Southwest Power Pool in partnership with SWEPCO would carry 16 times the amount of power currently used in the Carroll County area,” Stowe said. “Counting the power lines that are already in place, we would have 17 times the current demand. It is obvious that the power line’s true purpose is to pass power through us, not bring it to us. Routes 33 or 109 would constitute the northern leg with another planned to run south but connecting also with the Kings River substation.
Sater has talked as though this power line is something that the state of Arkansas has foisted upon Missouri.
“That is true in one sense, as the APSC has never met a power line it doesn’t like,” Stowe said in an email to Sater. “But the people of Northwest Arkansas are just as outraged as anyone in Missouri that the judge’s ruling selected 109 rather than throwing the whole thing out. What we are really facing is not a matter of neighbors against neighbors, from one state vs. the other, but rather, a partnership of rogue corporations that seek transmission profits without regard to the environmental and cultural costs imposed on the people of both states.”
SWEPCO has been touting increased property tax revenues it says Barry and McDonald counties would receive from the line. Initially SWEPCO spokesman Peter Main estimated that two counties would receive $2.5 million annually in additional property tax revenues. However, later SWEPCO revised its estimate.
“The $47-million Missouri portion of the project is estimated to bring approximately $650,000-$700,000 in property taxes annually to McDonald and Barry counties after construction is complete,” Main said.
When asked what kind of tax revenues Arkansas counties would receive from the project, Main said SWEPCO pays property taxes in all states in which they operate.
“During construction and after completion, SWEPCO will pay property taxes on the poles, wires and right-of-way,” Main said. “Property owners who have granted us an easement will pay property taxes on their land, but not on the utility facilities.”
Main said Route 109, after construction is complete, would generate about $496,000 annually in property taxes for Benton and Carroll counties.
Power line opponent Luis Contreras said he finds it difficult to believe there would be any net property tax benefit in either Missouri or Arkansas and pointed out that SWEPCO initially overestimated the tax gains by 67 percent.
Contreras said that it doesn’t make sense to think property taxes would increase when so many property values would drop precipitously due to the ugly scars created in a scenic area where many people purchased their property because of great views and a pristine, rural environment.
“Peter Main will have to rework his spreadsheet once more,” Contreras said, legislators and SWEPCO officials including Main. “My calculations tell me Barry and the other counties trespassed by Route 109 (and the other five lines) would lose about 40 percent in property taxes annually. I may be off by a few points, but there is no way you can destroy property and increase property taxes.”
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