Area residents are continuing to voice concern about a proposed high-voltage transmission line to be installed by Entergy Arkansas in Benton.
The route for the line includes property that runs alongside Bernard Holland Park, where youngsters play ball many days of the year.
Many residents are concerned about the potential health risks to children because of the location of the line, but city officials contend there is no cause for alarm.
Mayor David Mattingly said Wednesday that he had been informed that the location of the line does not pose any health hazards.
The line ultimately is intended to connect the city's North Benton Substation on Berwick to the South Benton Substation on South Market Street, helping secure continual energy reliability to Benton Utilities electric customers.
Mattingly told The Saline Courier that he discussed the health-risks issue with John Beneke, director of the outdoor recreation grants program for the Arkansas State Parks Program. The meeting with Beneke had been set specifically to determine whether the city's eligibility for future grants would be jeopardized by the installation of the line in this particular location, the mayor said.
According to comments Mattingly made to the Courier, Beneke assured him the city's eligibility for grants will not be affected by the proposed location for the transmission line. The mayor further stated he asked Beneke about potential health risks associated with the line's location and was told that Beneke had no reservations about the site.
In a telephone conversation Friday with Beneke, he confirmed that he assured Mattingly the city has not jeopardized its eligibility for future grants because of the proposed site for the line, but he said the health risks were not discussed.
"The whole purpose of our meeting was quite simply about what Benton is required to do about converting that property to a use other than outdoor recreation," Beneke said. "The right-of way for the line is our issue; it's no longer used for recreational purposes. Now it's land dedicated to a right-of-way. By the federal guidelines that must be used, this property must be replaced with other property of equal or greater recreational value and fair market value.
"We’re not scientists," Beneke said, "and have no basis to take any position about health risks that a power line could have on park users.
He added, "The issue of the health effects of the power lines is not for us to determine. That's for people with knowledge of that. Ours is simply the conversion of use (of the land) that is set aside for perpetuity in outdoor grants."
The meeting between Mattingly and Beneke reportedly took place at 2 p.m. Aug. 14.
In his comments to the Courier, Mattingly was adamant in stating that he had nothing to do with the location of the line. He said those decisions were made by Entergy Arkansas with the knowledge of the Benton Public Utility Commission.
Terry McKinney, general manager of Benton Utilities, said he did not choose the location for the line. He pointed out that Entergy Arkansas has eminent domain powers and the company's projects are subject to approval of the Arkansas Public Service Commission.
Mike Doyle, Entergy Arkansas' senior wholesale executive, was asked Friday about the health concerns related to the site for the line. Doyle said the company has an "in-house expert" who can discuss the issue; however, that individual will not be available until Monday, Doyle said.
Barbara Nix, a former member of the Arkansas House of Representatives, told the Courier that she learned that a public relations spokesman for Entergy has said relocating the line at this juncture is highly unlikely.
Nix previously was involved in a successful effort to stop a high-voltage line from being installed in the River Oaks subdivision of Benton, and she is challenging Entergy's current plans to place the line near the ballfields.
A concerned parent, Courtney Glaze of Benton, notified the Courier that she spoke with Paul Brewster, a public relations specialist for Entergy, about the project.
"He told me that it is too late to relocate the project because the pads have been poured and the poles are being erected," Glaze said. "He said the project is already under way."
Several studies have been conducted regarding health factors and high-voltage overhead power lines. One such study done in England suggests that children who live close to these lines may be at an increased risk of contracting leukemia.
Paul Brewster contended there is no scientific evidence to back up the health concerns about the Entergy transmission line, Glaze said.
Forty-two proposed sites reportedly were included in Entergy's original plans for the line. An out-of-state firm hired by Entergy reportedly chose the site that has been chosen.