Injunction against SWEPCO coal-fired power plant in Arkansas upheld by appeals court

By Dorothy Davis 

The 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis has upheld a ruling that ordered a temporary halt to construction on a portion of wetland area where Southwestern Electric Power Co.(SWEPCO) is developing the 600-megawatt (MW) ultra-supercritical John W. Turk, Jr. (Turk) coal-fired power  plant.

The three judge panel affirmed the October 2010 ruling set by US District Judge William R. Wilson Jr. that blocked construction on an 8-acre area of the 2,800-acre tract between Fulton and McNab, Arkansas.

Judge Wilson’s October ruling stopped work that included 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.

The October order was made in response to motions filed on behalf of the Sierra Club and other environmental groups that contested the US Army Corps of Engineers had not properly evaluated the environmental impact of the project. They argued that the power plant’s approval relied on a state permit that was overturned by the Arkansas Supreme Court that spring.

SWEPCO continued with construction following the Arkansas Supreme Court ruling after changing the status of the coal-fired Turk plant  by opting to sell the power originally planned to serve the company's Arkansas retail customers in other markets; therefore eliminating the need for state approval.

SWEPCO immediately filed an appeal to the temporary order issued by Judge Wilson and in a one-sentence ruling issued in December of 2010, the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the ruling to cease construction at the Turk site.

Soon after Judge Wilson filed to remove himself from the consolidated lawsuits seeking to stop construction of the Turk plant in a colorful three-page recusal order in which he referenced the likes of “The Legend of Boggy Creek,” a 1972 horror film and country singer Ernest Tubb. Then in yet another twist the federal appeals court reinstated his order later that month.

The new 29-page decision just issued by the appeals court once again supports Judge Wilson’s ruling and outlines that plaintiffs were able to successfully establish a likelihood of irreparable harm to the environment if construction was not halted.

The case is now pending before US District Judge Richard Kopf, in Nebraska. If Judge Kopf rules that the environmental impact of the project was not properly evaluated then the permit process would have to be restarted with the US Army Corps of Engineers.

According to SWEPCO the Turk coal-fired power plant project will create approximately 1,400 jobs at the height of construction and bring an estimated 110 permanent jobs to the area. The plant will also pay about $4 million in property taxes per year.

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