Ark. panel stops SWEPCO plan

Friday, June 13, 2014

New hearing may stop company from adding lines in Barry County

The Arkansas Public Service Commission (PSC) has decided to halt the Southwestern Power Company (SWEPCO) power line project that would have run into southern Barry County.

The commission ruled SWEPCO must show additional evidence on the need for, and the potential environmental impact of, the proposed project before proceeding.

The commission found that some transmission development in the area appears warranted. However, the decision stated, "The record is presently insufficient to determine the need for the particular 345 kV project that has been proposed, whether that project is consistent with the pubIic convenience and necessity, and whether the project represents an acceptable adverse environmental impact, considering the various alternatives, if any, and other pertinent considerations."

The commission granted a rehearing and will look at whether the needs may be met through alternative options. The decision to hold a new hearing vacated the previous grant for the route into Missouri.

Under the SWEPCO plan, 345,000-volt power lines would be carried by 150-foot-tall towers from the new Shipe Road Station, west of Centerton, in Benton County, Ark., to north of Berryville, Ark. Because of objections raised over the

scenic blight, the project has been re-routed into Missouri. The commission's previous ruling would have allowed power lines to follow a 56-mile route, entering Missouri in McDonald County, and exiting in Barry County, near Seligman, thus bypassing the Arkansas cities of Pea Ridge, Gateway and Garfield. Cost of the lines is estimated at $118 million.

State Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, who led the campaign in the Missouri General Assembly, along with State Sen. David Sater, R-Cassville, applauded the decision. Fitzpatrick said the ruling will allow opponents valuable time to continue their efforts to permanently stop a project that would provide no additional electricity to Missouri homes and businesses but would threaten the property rights of many Missouri residents.

"These massive power lines would cut a path through our part of the state and would force land owners to sell portions of their property with absolutely no benefit to any Missouri resident," Fitzpatrick said. "It makes no sense to allow this project to move forward in Missouri when you consider how strongly the negatives outweigh the positives. I am glad to see the Arkansas PSC is now moving to put the brakes on this plan. I am hopeful that SWEPCO and the Arkansas PSC have received the message that we are not going to lie down and accept this project in Missouri without a fight."

Fitzpatrick and Sater sponsored legislation during the 2014 legislative session to protect land owners from the project had it moved forward. Fitzpatrick's bill (HB 1774) and Sater's bill (SB 839) would have prohibited SWEPCO from using the power of eminent domain to forcibly take the land necessary for the towers and power lines.

"The fight may not be completely over, but the battle is won," Fitzpatrick said. "SWEPCO will likely continue to seek approval to build this line, but I am optimistic that, after seeing the opposition mounted by Missourians, they will elect to steer clear of the Show Me State."

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