The fight is on after an Arkansas judge determined that a proposed 345,000-volt electric transmission line to serve Northwest Arkansas should travel through southern Missouri's Barry and McDonald counties.
Since Missouri residents would not be served by the line, and the people of Arkansas don't want the line to come through their area, McDonald County Presiding Commissioner Keith Lindquist said, "I see no reason why it has to come up out of the way into our two counties.
"It has a 150 feet right-of-way that it is taking, and there's a lot of people whose property this would come across, and they're not going to benefit from it at all; but they can't use this 150 feet right-of-way underneath these power lines and the poles are right there at their front doors. I see no reason why we should support anything we are not getting a benefit from," said Lindquist.
Lindquist questions the authority of Arkansas Public Service Commission Administrative Law Judge Connie Griffin to order the line be constructed through Missouri.
"We don't understand how she has the right to do that," he said.
Citizens in McDonald and Barry counties are signing a petition to send to the public service commissions of both Arkansas and Missouri to voice their opposition, and Lindquist said District 159 State Rep. Bill Lant of Seneca and District 29 Sen. Dave Sater of Cassville have been a big help in getting their message across.
Southwestern Electric Power Company is charged with constructing the transmission line. SWEPCO spokesman Peter Main said Southwest Power Pool has responsibility for reliability of the transmission system over Arkansas, Missouri and seven other states.
"SPP, in its long-term planning, identified the need for additional transmission facilities in this region," said Main, "and directed SWEPCO to build these facilities. We are the transmission-owning utility in this particular location; the originating and destination points being in Benton and Carroll counties in Arkansas."
Main said SWEPCO proposed to the Arkansas Public Service Commission for its consideration what is known as Route 33 through Benton and Carroll counties, and five alternate routes. That application was filed in April 2013, and he said APSC Judge Griffin issued her ruling Jan. 17 to utilize the alternate Route 109, which travels into Missouri.
"In the rankings, it was No. 5 out of the six possible routes," said Main. "Two of those alternate routes ran in a similar central corridor as Route 33; one ran in a southern corridor and one ran in a northern corridor, that being the one that actually crossed into Missouri."
In the application, Main said SWEPCO indicated that to provide a northern alternate route, they would have to go north of the very congested Interstate 540 area and then turn east, which would put them in Missouri.
"We pointed out in our application to the commission that would require additional regulatory approvals," said Main, "because we are not a utility in Missouri. SWEPCO serves customers in Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas."
The six possible routes all have different lengths and different costs, and Main said, "Route 109 into Missouri is longer, and at a higher cost."
SWEPCO's proposed Route 33 would cover 48 miles, at an estimated cost of more than $116 million, and the Route 109 ordered by Judge Griffin would run 56 miles and cost more than $123 million, adding more than $6.5 million to the cost. He said the cost includes the transmission line and the new Kings River substation in Carroll County.
Ironically, a fact sheet provided by SWEPCO detailing seven factors involved in the APCS determining the best route lists "costs of facilities" as the No. 1 factor; followed by health and safety concerns, engineering and technical concerns, ecological and environmental disruption, disruption to or interference with existing property uses, disruption to or interference with planned property uses, and aesthetic displeasure.
Main said Route 109 would come into McDonald County near Highway 71, continuing east past the Barry County line to near Seligman, and then drop back down into Arkansas.
"About 25 miles of the 56 total miles are in Missouri," he said. "The original application indicated construction beginning in 2015, and completion in 2016."
Main pointed out that the Arkansas PSC Administrative Law Judge approved only the Arkansas portion of alternate Route 109, noting the need for appropriate regulatory approvals in Missouri.
"Although SWEPCO's proposed Route 33 was entirely in Arkansas," Main said, "we will now work with public officials and regulatory agencies, landowners and other stakeholders in Missouri as we seek to complete the project, and fulfill our mandate with SPP in order to build these facilities for long-term reliability in Northern Arkansas and Southern Missouri."
Getting those approvals from Missouri may present a problem.
Lant said he first heard of the proposal in July, when the Arkansas PSC was planning public hearings in Little Rock. He and Sater's chief of staff sat through about seven hours of hearings, "and the only thing that they were talking about at that time was Route 33, which was more or less a direct route from Berryville to Bentonville." Lant said. "It did, however, pass between Bentonville itself, and Bella Vista."
He said that was a point of contention, and there were several people there testifying that they had made agreements to go along with it.
Before leaving the meetings, he visited with the judges, who told him that Route 109 was not even being considered, that Route 33 was the preferred line.
"So, it was quite a surprise a couple of weeks ago when we saw the information that a public service commission judge in Arkansas had ruled that 109 was the line they were going to use," he said.
Lant checked with the Missouri Public Service Commission to see if they had been apprised of anything, "and they had not."
"So our next step," he continued, "was to find out what actually is required by law. If a public service commission wishes to cross a state line, the normal procedure is they notify the adjoining state of their intention, and the adjoining state then holds public hearings."
Lant said in this case, it would probably be hearings in Seligman and Pineville in order to determine the public opinion about the proposal.
"If there are objections to the line, then that's when the Missouri Public Service Commission would hear those objections," he said.
To date, Lant said that has not been filed.
Lant and District 158 Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick of Shell Knob filed a bill last week.
"That was more or less a shot across the bow, just to wake everybody up," said Lant.
The bill stated something to the effect that the Missouri Public Service Commission would be the final answer. Lant said that bill would not hold water constitutionally, so they met this week with some PSC officials in Missouri to get their thoughts.
"Since what SWEPCO is proposing is a transmission line," Lant said, "that's part of the national grid program, which is much like the national interstate highways program, it's a federally mandated thing. Eventually the purpose is so that no part of the country could run out of power…brownouts, blackouts, whatever…without getting assistance from another part of the country that didn't need the power badly."
Lant said that's a great idea he is sure will prevail someday. However, in the meantime, a line is proposed to start in Arkansas, come through Missouri and go back into Arkansas.
"So Sen. Sater and Rep. Fitzpatrick and I have presented bills in the House and the Senate that would prevent eminent domain from being exercised should that line become a reality."
He said that is supposed to make it difficult enough that SWEPCO will want to put that line somewhere else.
Lant said, "It's obvious to everyone that's looked at the route of the line that the idea is to appease the people in Arkansas because they have high-dollar homes down in the Bentonville and Bella Vista area; and quite frankly none of us can blame them for not wanting something that's 150 foot wide easement and 125 foot tall poles, carrying 345,000 volts. Nobody wants it running through your front yard."
Lant feels the Missouri PSC will rule that it's not in the best interest of Missouri ratepayers to have the line. He said it may be the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's decision ultimately on whether that line runs through Missouri or stays in Arkansas.
"What everybody appears to be doing to me," said Lant, "is punting the ball down the field and out of their end zone. If FERC does make the decision that the line is going to come here anyway — first off I can't imagine them doing that because it is so blatantly obvious what they are doing — but if they did, then the bills we filed which prevent eminent domain from being exercised, should be enough deterrent to keep that line out of there."
The line will be built somewhere, and Lant said if FERC would insist on putting that line through McDonald County, at least the people will get a fair amount of compensation for it.
He said Missouri PSC officials have told him we are at least a year away from a decision.
"Having said that, I've already been told once there's nothing to worry about, this couldn't possibly happen." But," Lant said, "it could happen, that's the bottom line."
The governor has been asked by local legislators to get involved, and Lant said it could be solved just as simply as no one ever filing a request.
"By Feb. 17, if a request hasn't been filed by Arkansas," Lant said, "then we go back to square one." As of now, he said no request has been made to the Missouri PSC.
For more information about the proposal, including an interactive map of the area and the various alternate routes, visit: www.swepco.com/shipekings.