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JPs to consider which way the wind blows on power line project

FORT SMITH – The Crawford County Quorum Court is scheduled today to consider a resolution opposing the construction of a wind-power transmission line that a Houston company wants to build across Arkansas.

The resolution states that the Quorum Court will urge the U.S. Department of Energy to deny the Plains and Clean Line transmission project application “unless it identifies clear and substantial benefits to the state of Arkansas that exceed any detrimental impact caused by the project.”

The resolution was offered by Quorum Court member Shane Griffin, who said the transmission line would run through his district, which includes the Figure Five area about 5 miles north of Van Buren.

Griffin said some constituents who are against the proposed transmission line have told him that people would lose the use of private land on which the line was located and that the clear-cut swath of right of way for the power line would be a scar on the land.

“It’s not good for people who are going to have the line run through their property,” he said.

The resolution also states that the project would not provide any power to Arkansas.

Clean Line Energy Partners has applied for permission from the U.S. Department of Energy to build a 3,500-megawatt, direct-current line that would transmit power generated on wind farms in western Oklahoma through Arkansas to Tennessee. There, Clean Line would sell the power to the Tennessee Valley Authority for use in the southern and southeastern United States.

The U.S. Energy Department last month released a preliminary environmental impact statement on the project.

All six members of the Arkansas congressional delegation signed a letter Friday to U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz asking to extend the 90-day public comment period on the statement by 60 days.

“We understand the importance of infrastructure projects, including properly-sited transmission lines, but we also believe that potentially-impacted landowners and citizens must be treated fairly and they must have every opportunity to eliminate or minimize impacts before projects are considered. In short, private property rights must be protected,” the letter states.

Public hearings on the statement will be held next month in Newport, Searcy, Marked Tree, Russellville, Fort Smith and Morrilton.

The company has said it anticipates the final statement being issued later this year. The company would begin construction on the wind farm in Oklahoma and the 700 miles of transmission line to Tennessee next year and would finish the project in about three years, according to information from the company.

Clean Line Executive Vice President Mario Hurtado said Friday that the company plans to build a converter station in Pope County to provide 400 megawatts to about 160,000 homes in the state.

Among other things, the final environmental impact statement would set the exact route for the transmission line. As of now, the line is to run through Crawford, Franklin, Johnson, Pope, Conway, Van Buren, Cleburne, White, Jackson, Cross, Poinsett and Mississippi counties.

Hurtado said that while company representatives and agents have talked with property owners along the proposed route, the company has not yet tried to purchase any rights of way. None would be sought, he said, until the company receives final government approval for the project.

If the project is approved, he said, Clean Line plans to pay property owners in Arkansas a total of $30 million to acquire easements and to locate structures on their property.

Also, the transmission lines would generate as much as $35 million a year in taxes, Hurtado said. Counties would receive about $5 million of that in property taxes.

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement states that Crawford County would receive about $500,000 a year in property taxes from the power line, he said.

No contracts to sell electricity to customers would be signed until government approvals allow the project to go forward, Hurtado said. He said, though, that potential customers have shown interest in buying about 14,000 megawatts of wind-generated power, or four times the proposed line’s capacity.

A Jan. 13 news release from the company said the Tennessee Regulatory Authority voted to approve the company’s application for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity and granted the company the authority to operate as a wholesale, transmission-only public utility in the state.

Julie Morton of Van Buren, an independent landman who said she has spent 10 years buying electrical transmission line rights of way, recently expressed concerns about the project.

Morton expressed skepticism that the project would generate 5,000 jobs in Arkansas, as Clean Line has said. She said the Draft Environmental Impact Statement said the project would generate 965 temporary jobs, 26 percent of which would be local hires.

Hurtado said the 5,000 jobs include construction workers on the line and the workers who would supply and support the project.

“These are real jobs paying real salaries and providing real benefits for real families,” Hurtado said.

Morton said the power line would reduce property values on the land it sits on and on the land of people for miles around, whose scenic views would be affected.

Hurtado said studies have shown that if property values decreased from power transmission lines, the amount would be about 10 percent.

He also said company representatives tried to minimize the visual effect of the line when choosing the route. The main concern was to avoid people’s homes, he said.