SWEPCO preps for rehearings
Route 109 still alternate route, SWEPCO aims for Arkansas route
The Southwestern Electric Power Company is gearing up for a pair of rehearings, granted to it and to Save The Ozarks, wherein SWEPCO has been asked by the Arkansas Public Service commission to provide additional evidence regarding the need and routing of the 345 kV transmission line project.
Peter Main, spokesman for SWEPCO, said the company is happy to have been granted the rehearing and is pursuing Route 33 for the project, which keeps the line in Arkansas.
"We asked the commission to reconsider Route 33, and the new order says the approval of Route 109 has been vacated," he said. "So, we are back to the consideration of previous routes, and Route 109 is still an alternate route before the commission."
Route 109, which travels through 8.5 miles of Barry County and 17 miles of McDonald County, would bring about $650,000 to $700,000 in property taxes, and Barry County would likely see about $250,000 to $275,000 of that total.
SWEPCO proposed Route 33, its preferred route, in Benton and Carroll counties in Arkansas, but the APSC approved alternate Route 109.
With the rehearing requests granted, Main said SWEPCO is fully focused on Route 33.
"Our focus will be in Arkansas and our preferred route is Route 33," he said. "The request for rehearing gives us the opportunity to address some areas of concern about location, so we'll be able to do that during the proceedings."
The request for rehearing to Save The Ozarks throws another hitch into SWEPCO's plans, as the APSC is asking SWEPCO to justify the need for the project entirely.
The commission found that some transmission development in the area appears warranted. However, the decision said, "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."
According to Michael Sappington, secretary at the APSC, an order designating a timeline for the rehearing proceedings has yet to be handed down, and there is no specific time the commission must hand down such an order.
Under the SWEPCO plan, 345 kV 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 was been re-routed into Missouri. The previous APSC 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. The cost of the lines is estimated at $118 million.
According to the decision, "The parties should provide additional testimony and more recent, comprehensive evidence on whether the proposed 345 kV project is needed, whether transmission requirements in the region might be met by alternative options, such as expanding, upgrading, or building lower capacity facilities, including 161 kV lines, and if not why not, the comparative costs associated with the options, the environmental impact of the options, and the long term sufficiency of the options."
State Representative Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, who led the campaign in the Missouri General Assembly, along with State Senator 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 landowners to sell portions of their property with absolutely no benefit to any Missouri residents," he 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 [APSC] is now moving to put the brakes on this plan.
"I am hopeful that SWEPCO and the [APSC] 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 landowners 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."