There is a fight brewing before the Public Service Commission over a proposed $1.3 billion dollar power plant near Fulton in Hempstead County. It pits the needs of several communities, against the environment that surrounds them. Furthering the controversy, a commission member has resigned to take a job with the Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation, which is a proposed stakeholder in the power plant.
"This is a very important part of Arkansas," said Ken Smith of Audubon Arkansas, an environmental group strongly against the building of the 1.3 billion dollar Turk Power Plant near Fulton.
Here's why opposition is so strong, Ken and other environmentalists say the almost 3,000 acres of pristine land has been protected for one hundred years. It includes Arkansas' premier wetlands and several endangered species including the bald eagle, osprey, and alligator.
"Bottom line, air emissions, problematic, mercury, dioxide, known pollutants, that will affect bird and wildlife populations," said Ken Smith.
Reporter asks, "Did Swepco pick this site because it's cheap land?
"Obviously, I think it was an element in the equation," said Ken Smith.
But at Thursday's opening session, the room was filled with Turk supporters.
Henry Hale, the mayor of Fulton says his town, population 245, can't afford to say no. "Arkansas cannot continue to live in the dark ages, yes we are the natural state, also look at jobs and our economy, coming in, moving out, no future in Arkansas," said Mayor Henry Hale.
Mike Young, manager of Southwestern Electric Power Company, or Swepco, says the power plant would create 110 permanent jobs, 1,400 temporary ones, and would not hurt the environment.
"No, our plant in Northwest Arkansas has won environmental awards and is a site for bald eagles," said Mike Young.
Opening statements and comments lasted several hours, but the Public Service Commission won't hear testimony until August 20. Southwestern Electric plans to complete the $1.3 billion dollar plant by 2011. It has already awarded a contract for $700 million of the construction work.