Injunction issued for SWEPCO work | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Injunction issued for SWEPCO work

Posted By on Wed, Oct 27, 2010 at 2:51 PM

Judge William R. Wilson today issued a preliminary injunction on construction work at SWEPCO's coal-fired power plant in Hempstead County that is related to its Corps of Engineers-issued water permit. It can't dredge or fill or build an intake structure or work on power lines crossing rivers.

SWEPCO is not happy and has asked for a hearing before the judge, scheduled to begin at 3:15 p.m. UPDATE: It said, however, that with some time to tie up a few loose ends it was prepared to shut down that part of the construction work affected. Other work on the plant will continue.

While the preliminary injunction applies only to wetlands work, Wilson commented about broader issues related to the plant, remarking, "There is no other evidence of need — outside of SWEPCO’s bare assertions — anywhere in the record." Wilson noted appellate courts reversal of the PSC approval of the plant because of lack of sufficient environmental assessment.

As Judge Josephine L. Hart of the Arkansas Court of Appeals noted in her concurring opinion, “it is improper, unnecessary, short-sighted, and it leaves the public interest unprotected for the Commission to abdicate, to any degree, its responsibility to assess the acceptability of the environmental impact of the plant . . . .”82 Plaintiffs here make the same argument regarding the Corps’ actions. The public has an interest in knowing that its government agencies are fulfilling their obligations and complying with laws that bind them. Just as important as the public interest
in potential economic gains in Hempstead County is the public’s confidence that its government agencies act independently, thoroughly, and transparently when reviewing permit applications.

Finally, it is still debatable whether anyone, other than SWEPCO, contends that the area in question is short on electric generating capacity. While I recognize that the Corps adopted SWEPCO’s position, it relied on a CECPN [certificate of environmental compatibility and public need] that was not valid, and the Corps’ disclaimer that it did not rely on the CECPN to make its decisions is hardly credible since it repeatedly (no less than eleven times) cited the APSC’s finding of consumer need in its Decision Document.

See Sierra Club and SWEPCO comments on the jump:

Today, Federal District Court Judge Bill Wilson, Jr. granted an injunction that will, at least partially, halt the construction of the 600 MW Turk coal fired power plant in Hempstead County.

The injunction will stop the destruction of wetlands on the Turk construction site in order to prevent irreparable harm to the vulnerable ecosystem in the Little River Bottoms area.

Glen Hooks, Regional Director for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, stated, “Today’s ruling is the latest in a string of court decisions against SWEPCO and the Turk plant. The injunction is an enormous and historic victory for Arkansans and our environment. The facts and law were on our side and the Court made a careful and fair ruling today.”

Sierra Club, Audubon and the Hempstead County Hunting Club filed for an injunction in U.S. District Court in the Western District of Arkansas, Texarkana Division to stop Southwestern Power Company’s construction of the proposed John W. Turk 600 MW coal-fired plant in Hempstead County. The plaintiffs are represented by Richard H. Mays of Mays & White law firm of Heber Springs.

Ellen Fennell, Interim Director for Audubon Arkansas, stated, “We applaud the court’s halt of SWEPCO’s rush to harm in this nationally recognized Important Bird Area. The tremendous biological diversity the Little River watershed is demonstrated by the fact that it harbors two endangered species and many other species listed as threatened. The Turk plant construction has proceeded recklessly, in the face of failure to both demonstrate public need as well as failing to assess both present and potential environmental damage in one of the most important natural areas in the region.”

SWEPCO’s proposed John W. Turk, Jr. coal-fired plant sits on 2,800 acres of previously forested land that contains wetlands. Adjacent to the plant site is the Little River, from which SWEPCO proposes to pump 6,500 gallons per minute of water which is 10% of the river’s minimum flow. Also adjacent to the plant site are thousands of acres of some of the most valuable and ecologically sensitive areas in the state, including the Grassy Lake area which is widely recognized as one of the most outstanding examples of virgin Cyprus swamp existing.

The plant, already under construction, would cost upwards of $2 billion as well as contribute to climate change through releasing millions of metric tons of carbon dioxide each year. Turk’s construction not only would destroy 8 acres of highly ecologically valuable wetlands, but would also fill in 8,150 feet of stream.

Peter Main, principal communications consultant for SWEPCO send this comment in an email:

“While we are disappointed in the court’s decision, we respect the judge's ruling and will discontinue work in the areas affected by the ruling. We will demobilize activities in the affected areas in a safe and orderly manner,” said Venita McCellon-Allen, SWEPCO president and chief operating officer.

Within the 3,000-acre site, the preliminary injunction applies to the installation of the water intake structure in the Little River, a few areas crossed by the water pipeline, and placement of a few poles associated with one of the transmission lines.

“The overall construction of the Turk Power Plant is unaffected by Judge Wilson's ruling. We will continue construction, except for the small amount of work remaining in wetlands and streams areas included in the preliminary injunction. As you'd expect, however, we will continue to exhaust all legal remedies to protect SWEPCO's investment in the Turk Plant and in Southwest Arkansas," McCellon-Allen said.

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