Our family lives on a mountaintop on the outskirts of Bentonville with a beautiful view of the valley of Little Sugar Creek and the surrounding mountains. We have acquired enough acres to ensure that we are surrounded by nature. We have lived here for thirteen years and some of our fondest memories are of having picnics under the lone tree on top of the hill behind our house, a beautiful oak tree that is more than 200 years old.
Our house was built to enjoy the view of that tree and the valley behind it, and the tree has become a symbol of our family. We are a family that truly appreciate nature. We enjoy sitting on the back deck and watching the wildlife behind our house – deer, coyotes, raccoons, wild turkeys, bats and birds of all kind, including eagles in the winter and blue herons. We recycle, drive hybrid cars, and grow a large organic garden.
You can imagine our surprise and dismay when we received a letter notifying us that SWEPCO planned to take a large piece of our property, clear cutting a wide path through forest on both sides of the hill and coming across the top of the hill to demolish our special oak tree. The path of destruction would not run along our property line which is down in the valley below the hill, but instead would detour to climb sharply up the hill over very rugged terrain, across the top of the hill (very near to cliffs where bats colonies live), and back down steep and rugged terrain to the valley below. It would also be between our home and its view of the valley. It felt as if the route had been designed in a manner to cause the most harm to our home and to our property value. The thought of a clear cut path of scorched earth and 150 foot tall ugly metal towers and high voltage power lines running behind our home and across the Ozarks made us physically sick.
I soon read about the dangers of electromagnetic flux from high voltage power lines and its correlation to childhood cancer, as well as other conditions. When I asked whether anyone had considered that I homeschool my children when planning the route, I was told by SWEPCO that those public records had not been reviewed and that it would not have made a difference because they actually prefer to place high voltage lines near schools instead of residences!
We also learned that SWEPCO had planned the routes years before landowners were given any notice. We had recently added onto the back of our home a large covered outdoor “great room” porch. It would have been nice to know that our property value was in great danger before we invested further in it. We learned that a firm in Texas hired by SWEPCO had drawn the routes using Google Earth, apparently not considering the terrain. Nobody had inspected the sites that they proposed to ruin. There was no consideration of what endangered plants or animals lived in the project area. There was also no consideration of the fragile karst terrain of the Ozarks, even though deep drilling would be required for installation of the towers.
The most frustrating part was that nobody seemed to care and nobody would do anything to help. It amazed me that a company could take from us what we had worked so hard to own, and that the Public Service Commission does not represent the public. Instead the Commission is like the judge who decides whether SWEPCO can do what it wants. But instead of being an impartial judge, it seems like the Commission almost always gives SWEPCO what it seeks, is comprised entirely of people who have worked for an electric company (or another utility company) and who are sometimes even hired by SWEPCO or its related companies after serving on the Commission.
Thank God for Save the Ozarks! This marvelous group of people banded together to give a voice to people who were outraged by the proposed project; and a loud voice it was. I took my two teenagers to the public hearings in Eureka Springs for an invaluable lesson on the power of community and on standing up for what is right and fair. STO had gotten the word out and it seemed like the entire population of Carroll County came to speak against the project! We were touched by the testimonies of numerous people who described the various ways in which the project would ruin their homes. I spent most of the day in tears. Afterward, we began working to spread the news about STO, especially in Benton County. My kids and I went on a campaign to educate people about what was happening.
We spoke to all of our neighbors and visited numerous businesses in Benton County to spread the word about STO. I spoke out at the public hearing in Rogers, and watched with pride as my 16 year old daughter spoke out and earned a standing ovation from the crowd. STO hired top notch lawyers and experts to oppose the project. We learned from its experts that the high voltage power line project was not even needed. There were several less costly and less environmentally damaging alternatives that SWEPCO had not even considered. We learned that the environmental impact statement was insufficient. We then attended the week-long Commission hearing in Little Rock and witnessed the marvelous job that the STO team and its attorneys did there. Words cannot describe how satisfying it was to watch STO’s lawyers cross examine SWEPCO’s witnesses and shed light on the truth – that its project was not properly planned, would be devastating to the environment, tourism and the economy of the Ozarks, and was not even needed. I believe that the project was an effort by the electric companies to keep busy, to create a pathway for selling electricity out of state, and to take as much land as possible before its industry dies. I pray that the project will be abandoned, but I know that Save Ozarks will continue to fight as long as necessary.