As questions and concerns continue to be raised about a high-voltage transmission line being installed in Benton, city officials say they have attempted to convince Entergy Arkansas officials to relocate a particular transmission line pole that is located within close proximity to the ball fields at Bernard Holland Park.
City Attorney Brent Houston reviewed the steps leading to that proposal in a detailed email submitted to members of the City Council. In essence, Entergy has refused to modify the project and the city has been told there is nothing that can be done.
In Houston's email, he referred to action taken in May by the council in regard to approval given for the easements Entergy requested to run the transmission lines onto city property.
"Prior to this approval, Entergy had a route approved by the Public Service Commission for these lines," Houston said. " I understand this approval by the PSC occurred in
the fall of 2011 following public hearings on the matter. "
Houston, referring to a May agenda meeting preceding a council meeting, noted that the issue included the discussion of the easement. He mentioned that concern was voiced by
one of the Park Commissioners concerning the placement of the line.
Jasen Kelly, director of the Boys & Girls Club of Saline County, said earlier this week that he voiced objections to the line, but received no encouragement from city officials.
Houston, in his statement, noted Wednesday that after
hearing these concerns, the council requested that the Mayor David Mattingly write a letter requesting the line — specifically pole 13 — be moved back "within the 500-foot area (250 feet on each side of the line) for movement which we were told the Public Service Commission allowed in making the final pole location placements."
"The mayor made such a request on May 15, the day following the meeting," Houston said. "This request was denied by Entergy."
Houston referred to a recent meeting he attended that included the mayor and John Beneke, who oversees the outdoor grant programs of the Arkansas Parks and Tourism. The meeting was called to check on the city's park grant funding.
"Mr. Beneke had called the mayor to advise the city that there was an issue which needed to be addressed with
respect to our park grants. I met with him, along with the mayor, Robert Edwards (interim director of the parks department, and Terry McKinney(general manager of Benton Utilities In sum, he indicated the city would need to designate a replacement park area for the land being utilized for the transmission line.
"He agreed to assist Mr. Edwards with the necessary
paperwork and indicated this would be a fairly simple process to correct," Houston said.
"During the meeting he was asked if there were any health issues with the placement of the transmission line that the Department of Parks and Tourism would be concerned about. This was discussed at least twice during the meeting and his response was 'no' regarding health issues at the park."
Beneke, responding to an earlier story in which that matter was reported, has denied giving any opinion on potential health risks in the meeting with Mattingly. He told The Saline Courier that 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."
Houston confirms the mayor's account of that meeting.
"A few days ago Mayor Mattingly asked for my assistance to determine if there was anything the city could do with respect to the location of the power line, in particular pole 13," Houston said.
"At this point the city has sold the right of way to Entergy and it is now Entergy's property upon which to construct the line," Houston said.
After considering the matter and after speaking more with the mayor and with McKinney, Houston formulated an offer of compromise, subject to the necessary approvals. He said this was submitted to Entergy on Monday morning.
The points noted in Houston's proposal were as follows:
•In order to resolve an easement dispute which presently exists on Cynamide Road between the city utility department and Entergy, the city would concede to the demands of Entergy on the location of its service
line so long as the line was high enough to not present a danger to an employee operating a backhoe in the area of the city's water line.
•In exchange for this agreement, Entergy would move pole 13 back from the ball field. This new location would be on city property and would be provided in exchange for the current easement at no additional cost.
"This compromise would allow Entergy the ability to place its line on Cynamide Road where it wants, move the pole away from the ball fields and reduce the amount of acreage being taken from the (Jim and Missy) Partridge family and put more of the line on unusable land owned by the city. This would hopefully alleviate any health concerns as well.
"Additionally, if the city ever wanted to expand the ball fields and/or park area by acquiring land from the
Partridge family in the future, we could utilize their property better without the placement of the transmission line where it is presently going to be situated. This is a very attractive piece of property from my observations and would appear to me to be well suited for a park area at
some point in time if all parties were to agree," Houston said.
A few hours after submitting that proposal, Houston said he was told "'no' — that they were too far along in their work on the line and they refused to move it. That afternoon rather than accepting the 'no' I had been given, I contacted Jim Garland, who is with Entergy, to
determine if there was any assistance he could offer to the city within their administrative ladder. I spoke with him about the issue on Monday evening. The following morning (Tuesday), I then received an email stating
that as the attorney for the city, I was to no longer speak with Entergy employees and speak only with their attorneys about this matter."
Houston said he was also informed that state Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, had arranged for a meeting with
Entergy at McKinney's office Tuesday afternoon to discuss
pole 13. "At the meeting in addition to Mr. Hammer, present were myself, Terry McKinney, Dewayne Hood, and Robert Edwards for the city. Entergy sent their lead attorney, the project manager, the government relations
manager for this area, and Margaret Snow, (a professional engineer) and senior environmentalist specialist for Entergy, who held herself out as being an EMF (electromagnetic field expert) and two other management members.
"At the beginning of the meeting I reiterated the city's position wanting this line moved and the offer we had previously made to give Entergy a way of making this happen."
After discussing the matter in-depth, Houston said he was left with the following impressions of Entergy's position on pole 13:
•Entergy does not believe there will be any harm from the placement of the transmission line by the ball field to any person or child. Ms. Snow gave the opinion that a parent allowing a child to use a hair dryer would give the child more exposure to EMF than would this transmission line to a child playing ball. We were also told they had never been sued over EMF issues.
•Entergy appears to believe the issue has been brought about for political reasons only and by a small handful of individuals.
•Entergy stated that there were compensation issues with the Partridge family. "One of its' employees indicated that Entergy had offered approximately $24,000 for the Partridge property and the response demand
from the Partridge attorney was over $100,000. These numbers were given as approximations to describe the difference in the amount of compensation
being offered and demanded and were not intended to be exact figures."
•Entergy indicated that they would also have issues with the amount of wetlands being used in this project if pole 13 is moved. They stated if they used more than allowed, they would have to resubmit their paperwork with the Corps of Engineers, which could cause a year delay in the project.
•Entergy stated that the engineering work had been completed for pole 13 and to replace it would require a delay of six months to order a new pole. "The city offered the use of a temporary pole until a new one could be ordered and installed at the new location, but they did not appear to give any consideration to this offer."
•Entergy stated that as far as they were concerned the location of pole 13 was decided by the PSC last fall and placement of this pole was not contested by anyone. When the PSC granted the transmission route, as far as
they are concerned, this is the end of the issue.
•After the project is complete, if the city wants pole 13 to be moved, Entergy will agree to moving it, but the city will have to pay the cost. It is estimated the cost will be $300,000. They stated a separate
move would be considered a different project which would not affect the wetlands issue they are facing now.
•They stated any delay in this project affects their ability to
provide electrical service to Saint Gobain and that is not something they want to occur.
"At the conclusion of the meeting and these above items were discussed, I once again reiterated the city's position on moving pole 13 and our offer of settlement and that the city's position had not changed. Entergy's response
to my offer was that it was declined Monday morning."
Houston said he does not believe there is any further action the city can take at this time regarding the placement of pole 13. "I will however continue to consider
the alternatives. Also, I received a call earlier today stating that pole 13 was being placed this morning. This was not disclosed to us in the meeting yesterday afternoon. Additionally, one of our utility department
employees was told that after our meeting yesterday Entergy has decided to file an eminent domain action against the Partridge family in order to proceed with the project and cross their property with the transmission
lines. I anticipate they will be seeking an order from the circuit court giving them immediate possession of the right of way.
"I would attempt to lobby Entergy more but because of the rules of ethics I have to follow as an attorney, once their attorney tells me I can only speak with their attorneys, I am limited with whom I may communicate. Members of
the council and/or members of public may wish to contact Entergy directly to voice their concerns about their decision."
Barbara Nix, a former member of the Arkansas House of Representatives who has attempted to convince Entergy officials to relocate the line, as she did earlier when it was planned for another area of the city, was asked about Enterg's reference to the issue "being politically moviated." She stated:
"Some have questioned my motives for getting involved in the power line controversy. I always stood up to protect my students who were being bullied or taken advantage of. As a public school teacher for 38 years I dedicated my life to helping children and families. That’s what you do as teacher, and that’s what you do when anyone calls for help. It’s just the right thing to do.
"I could not ignore a call for help now any more than choosing to look the other way when a student needed my help at school," Nix said.