Judge halts construction on SWEPCO coal-fired plant in Arkansas

By Dorothy Davis 

In response to a motions filed on behalf of the Sierra Club and other environmental groups, U.S. District Judge Bill Wilson has issued an injunction ceasing construction on a portion of the area where Southwestern Electric Power Co. (SWEPCO) is developing the $1.7 billion John W. Turk, Jr. (Turk) coal-fired power plant.

SWEPCO is building the Turk power plant on a 2,800-acre tract between Fulton and McNab, Arkansas. The 600-megawatt plant will utilize an advanced coal combustion technology called “ultra-supercritical,” that will be the first of its type to go into operation in the U.S.

Judge Wilson ruled Wednesday that conservationist had successfully shown “a likelihood of irreparable harm to the environment” if construction was not halted; citing that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had not properly evaluated the environmental impact of the project as its approval relied on a state permit that was overturned by the Arkansas Supreme Court that spring.

Judge Wilson’s order stops work that includes the discharge of dredge or fill material into wetlands, the placement of a water-intake structure on the bank of the Little River and the spanning of transmission lines across the Little and Red rivers.

During proceedings SWEPCO argued that a delay of 12-months would cost the company more than $309 million and effect employment for 1,600 workers. SWEPCO also contested that halting the project could ultimately increase the risk of electrical power shortages as well as “higher and more volatile electricity costs” for consumers.

Judge Wilson countered by calling the arguments presented by the utility “pure conjecture” and outlining that his ruling only affected an 8 acre area of the construction site which would allow SWEPCO to easily recoup any losses if the project is completed.

SWEPCO said it would begin work to comply with the order within the next few days but that it would "exhaust all legal remedies" to allow the utility to move ahead with construction of the plant.

Read the order here: Motions for Preliminary Injunction (PDF 60 KB)

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