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Missouri bill fights electric-line route

Aim is to keep towers in Arkansas by Bill Bowden | January 31, 2014 at 1:34 a.m.

Two Missouri legislators have filed a bill to prevent Southwestern Electric Power Co. from building a high-voltage power line in that state.

The proposed 56-mile line would begin and end in Arkansas but would skirt just north of the Missouri state line for about 25 miles.

Missouri state Reps. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, and Bill Lant, R-Pineville, filed House Bill 1622 on Wednesday.

“If this legislation ispassed, then that route … would be off the table,” said Fitzpatrick, referring to Route 109.

Connie Griffin, an administrative law judge with the Arkansas Public Service Commission, approved the route Jan. 17.

SWEPCO proposed the 345-kilovolt line to start from Centerton and end near Berryville in an April 3 filing. Griffin granted a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need to SWEPCO to construct and operate the line.

Six routes were initially proposed. Griffin chose what she declared to be the “only reasonable route” because it would have less residential and “aesthetic impact.”

Normally, the next step would be for SWEPCO to seek approval from the Missouri Public Service Commission. But if passed, House Bill 1622 would remove jurisdiction from the commission and place it with the Missouri Legislature instead.

Fitzpatrick said it’s an unusual maneuver.

“I don’t think there’s another statute where jurisdiction has been removed from the [commission] to approve a transmission line,” he said.

The bill gets the Missouri commission out of the predicament of having to side with the Arkansas commission, Lant said.

“The idea was to be a bill against the power line, to let the Legislature make the decision,” said Lant. “That would keep the Public Service Commission from having to side with Arkansas.”

Missouri residents were surprised to hear of Griffin’s ruling, Lant said. Nobody wants the power line - with its 150-foot-tall towers - in his backyard, he said.

“It’s always going to be an eyesore for somebody,” he said. “But for a line that’s going to originate in Arkansas and terminate in Arkansas, it ought to stay in Arkansas.”

Fitzpatrick said House Bill 1622 is written specifically for Route 109 and Barry and McDonald counties in Missouri but could apply to other counties later if theyfall under the same criteria. Barry and McDonald counties aren’t specified in the legislation, but they are described by population and classification.

The bill has already achieved its purpose, Lant said, which was “to open some eyes.”

In Griffin’s 118-page order, she noted that the northernmost Route 109 wasn’t the shortest and wasn’t the one preferred by SWEPCO. The utility preferred Route 33, but that route went through more populated areas, including the towns of Gateway and Garfield.

“While Route 109 is longer, it crosses more undeveloped lands with larger parcels,” Griffin wrote. “As such, Route 109 has a lower residential proximity and visibility, crosses fewer parcels and fewer major roads.”

SWEPCO has yet to apply for approval from the Missouri Public Service Commission and must also apply to be a public utility in that state, officials have said. SWEPCO serves more than 200 communities in Louisiana, Texas and western Arkansas but none in Missouri, according to the company’s website.

“The Arkansas Public Service Commission administrative law judge approved only the Arkansas portions of alternate Route 109, noting the need for appropriate regulatory approvals in Missouri,” said Peter Main, a spokesman for SWEPCO. “Although SWEPCO’s proposed Route 33 was entirely in Arkansas, we will work with public officials, regulatory agencies, landowners and other stakeholders in Missouri as we seek to complete the project and fulfill our mandate from the Southwest Power Pool to build the facilities for longterm reliability in northern Arkansas and southern Missouri.”

SWEPCO is required to build transmission projects within its service area if the Southwest Power Pool determines they are necessary, David Matthews, an attorney for the company, has said.

The pool is a regional transmission organization under the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. It is responsible for planning electrical transmission needs for 6 million households in nine states.

Matthews said the line is needed to provide reliable electric service in the futureto northern Arkansas and southern Missouri.

Griffin’s decision also must be considered by the Arkansas Public Service Commission.

If the commission doesn’t enter an order accepting, rejecting or modifying the order within 30 days, Griffin’s ruling becomes the final order of the commission, said John Bethel, executive director of the Arkansas Public Service Commission.

Any official party has 30 days from the date of the commission’s final order in which to file a petition for rehearing, under Arkansas Code Annotated 23-2-422.

A volunteer residents’ group called Save the Ozarks has opposed the transmission-line proposal from the beginning. The group asked Griffin to reject SWEPCO’s proposal on several grounds, including need, environmental issues and the effect on tourism, particularly in the Eureka Springs area.

Pat Costner, director of Save the Ozarks, said it is taking the necessary steps to challenge Griffin’s ruling.

“It’s impressive to see Missouri legislators take a stand on SWEPCO’s transmission line,” Costner said. “They’re showing us how democracy is supposed to work. If their bill passes, it will be an effective means for blocking SWEPCO’s Route 109.”

To support the line, six towers would be needed every mile averaging 130-160 feet tall, according to SWEPCO’s proposal. A 150-footwide right of way also wouldbe required along the route.

The power-line proposalhas generated thousands of comments from people opposed to the project who filed electronically or attended hearings in Eureka Springs and Rogers.

A week-long evidentiary hearing was held on the transmission line in August at the Public Service Commission office in Little Rock.

American Electric Power Co. is the parent company of SWEPCO. Columbus, Ohiobased American Electric Power is one of the largest electric utilities in the U.S., serving more than 5 million customers in 11 states, according to the company’s website.

SWEPCO’s initial goal was to have the approval process and design engineering for the transmission line done by December. The company wanted construction to begin by March 2015 and the newline to be in service by June 2016.

At an estimated cost of $102.8 million, Route 109 is more expensive than SWEPCO’s preferred Route 33, which would be 49 miles and cost about $96.3 million to construct.

Front Section, Pages 1 on 01/31/2014

Print Headline: Missouri bill fights electric-line route


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