The Crawford County Quorum Court on Tuesday joined a growing list of government entities opposed to the construction of a $2 billion, 700-mile, high-voltage transmission line project that would pass through Oklahoma, Arkansas and into Tennessee.
During the meeting, justices of the peace, as well as a flock of county residents delivered statements in opposition of the project, the Plains & Eastern Clean Line project, that is slated to deliver 3,500 megawatts of wind energy from the Oklahoma Panhandle region to utilities and customers in Tennessee, Arkansas, and other markets in the Mid-South and Southeast.
According to the proposed plan, the line would require a 150-foot to 200-foot right-of-way for towers that range from 110-feet to 150-feet tall, or 200 feet at river crossings. It would also require eight strands of two-inch thick wire and 200-feet-wide easements.
The quorum court unanimously passed a resolution in opposition of the project which they said would be a “detriment and a blight” to the community and will have little, if any positive effects on the state.
“The resolution speaks for itself,” District 2 JP Shane Griffin said. “It’s going to be a detriment and a blight to our area, and I see no need for it. Every constituent I’ve spoken with is against this. I stand with this resolution to oppose this.”
Field K. Wasson, a Plains & Eastern Clean Line consultant, was on hand to speak on the project’s behalf and to address questions and concerns from the public and the quorum court.
Referring to a packet of handouts that were distributed to the quorum court, Wasson outlined some of the benefits the project could bring, including what he said are more than 700 jobs to the state, millions of dollars in revenue, infrastructure payments and sales and use taxes on local materials.
Wasson also said the project would bring 500 megawatts of clean energy to the state and noted that a substation near Atkins in Pope County is included in the project plans. He noted that the group is in discussions with energy companies, municipalities and other entities to gauge interest in cooperation in the project.
Wasson added that the project would facilitate a “$500 million investment” in Arkansas with Bekaert Corporation, which has operations in Van Buren, Malvern’s General Cable and Little Rock’s LM Wind Power.
Griffin, still unconvinced, continued to grill Wasson on the issue and questioned him about the project’s planned eminent domain proceedings. After some back and forth discussion, County Judge John Hall, who also is opposed to the project, stepped in and said that while the project does not have those privileges at the moment, if it were to become a federal government project, it would obtain those privileges; Wasson agreed.
A number of county residents expressed their beliefs about the project, many noting health concerns, trust issues, the impacts on home values and tourism, failure to property inform affected landowners, as well as the number of jobs it would actually create within the state.
Betty Stockton, an elderly resident who owns 83 acres of property in the Bond Special Community near Rudy, expressed displeasure with the company when it presented her with “conflicting” information that she felt was misleading and dishonest.
She also took issue with the proposed route of the lines that would cut across her property and expressed her concerns about what health-related issues the project could bring.
“They take no consideration into what people think,” she said, as she was met with applause from the audience. “I believe in honesty, and if you believe in honesty, you will pass this resolution to keep them out of Crawford County. Because in my opinion, they do not know what honesty is.”
Craig Smith, Stockton’s neighbor, said the line would “cut his property in half” and would make his property and sightline less attractive.
The Cherokee Nation along with quorum courts of Franklin, Johnson and Pope counties have passed similar resolutions within the past month.
In other business, the county set its sales tax renewal election for May 12. The county currently has a 1 percent sales tax that has been in place for 16 years. The sales tax is set to sunset Sept. 30. If approved in May, the tax would be extended for an additional eight years.
Also Tuesday, the quorum court appropriated $60,000 to the election commission, increasing the panel’s budget to $72,100. The request stems from a November budget discussion which saw the quorum court reducing the election commission’s budget by about $100,000, down to $12,100.
During that time, the Commission felt uneasy with the cut, noting that the county’s sales tax renewal election would cost the county around $40,000 and that having only $12,000 to spend would put that election, as well the annual school board election “in limbo.”
Members of the election commission in attendance Tuesday night thanked the quorum court for its approval and said the funding should get the county through this year’s election cycle.