Save The Ozarks wants denial of rehearing
Organization says SWEPCO does not have legal standing for request
Save The Ozarks, a Eureka Springs, Ark., organization, is asking the Arkansas Public Service Commission to deny a Southwestern Electric Power Company rehearing request on the grounds SWEPCO does not have legal standing to make the request.
According to a release from Save The Ozarks, the organization, along with the city of Garfield, Ark., and the Bennett Intervenors, claim the application for a hearing only allows "aggrieved parties" to request a rehearing per Arkansas law. They say SWEPCO is not an aggrieved party because it asked for and was given the approval for its project, which is to build a 345 kV transmission line in the region.
"The reliability problem that SWEPCO presented to the APSC as the basis of need for this transmission line and associated new substation no longer exists," the Save The Ozarks release said. "This fact was established in testimony by both the expert witness for the project's opponent, Save the Ozarks, and the expert witness for the project's proponent, the Southwest Power Pool.
"Indeed, even at the time when the reliability problem was thought to exist, SWEPCO itself saw no need for a new 345 kV transmission line and proposed to SPP that a 161 kV line be constructed to resolve the problem. This less costly, less environmentally and economically damaging alternative was not disclosed to the APSC and the public in SWEPCO's application or its Environmental Impact Statement."
The City of Garfield asked the APSC to deny SWEPCO's petition for rehearing, describing the decision of the APSC's presiding officer to declare one of SWEPCO's proposed routes, Route 33, to be an "unreasonable route" as "well-reasoned and supported by sufficient findings of fact."
Garfield also countered SWEPCO's claims that Route 33 would have no detrimental impact on the small town of Garfield, its school or its park.
The APSC has 30 days to respond to the petition, filed on March 14, and it may grant or deny the rehearing, abrogate or modify its order without further hearing, or reopen the record for the purpose of receiving and considering additional evidence.
Depending on the outcome of the request, American Electric Power, parent company of SWEPCO, is prepared to pursue regulatory approval for Route 109 in Missouri. The exact location of the Missouri portion of the line is pending further study and public input.
Route 33, SWEPCO's preferred route, is the most direct and shortest route, and does not enter Missouri. However, according to orders from Connie Griffin, administrative law judge, found at the Arkansas Public Service Commission website, it was eliminated because it would pass within 800 feet of Garfield Elementary School in Garfield, Ark., which is the longest-operating elementary school in Arkansas and on the National Register of Historic Places. Coupled with the plans for a new, five-lane highway to be built in the same area, Griffin struck down the route, in part, because placing a transmission line so close to the new highway "could prohibit the development of a new commercial district in Garfield because of the restrictions on construction in the transmission line right-of-way."
Griffin also said Route 33 would impact Pea Ridge National Park's cultural resources and historic landscape. The park includes one of the Civil War's most intact battlefields.
The route also passes through a portion of the Gateway Public Park, which was partially constructed through a grant that prohibits the placement of overhead electrical lines across the park and provides for the forfeiture of the grant funds if that prohibition is ignored, resulting in a "severe financial burden to the citizens of Gateway if the granting authority, the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, demanded the return of the funds."
Route 109, which travels through 8.5 miles of Barry County and 17 miles of McDonald County, would bring about $275,000 into Barry County via property taxes, according to a SWEPCO internal estimate. McDonald County would see about $425,000.
If Route 109 still moves forward and Barry County were to receive that money, Presiding Commissioner Cherry Warren said 75-80 percent would go to schools, with Southwest R-5 School District being the main beneficiary, and most of the rest would go to roads in the area.
SWEPCO filed its application with the APSC on April 3, 2013. Public comment hearings were held in Eureka Springs, Ark., and Rogers, Ark., in July, and a week-long evidentiary hearing was held in August.
Griffin's orders were issued Jan. 17 and Jan. 21, and became a final order of the commission on Feb. 16.