Hundreds pack public hearingPublished 7:40pm Thursday, July 18, 2013
Representatives of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) last night said they understand clearly what Lake Martin area stakeholders want in the relicensing of Martin Dam, but they need more information before they can provide it.
FERC heard comments and questions from 25 of the 600 people who attended a public meeting on the draft environmental impact statement (EIS) that was released last month. The meeting took place at the Betty Carol Graham Technology Center at Central Alabama Community College.
The statements of those who addressed the panel of three FERC representatives overwhelmingly focused on two primary issues: the Alabama Power Company’s request for a higher winter pool and the power company’s proposal for an extended summer pool. Three people strongly opposed both the power company’s requests for these provisions in the new license, including a property owner, an attorney representing property owners and Elmore County district 2 commissioner Trey Taylor.
The remaining speakers favored the relicensing proposal submitted by Alabama Power Company.
Several addressed the potential economic benefits the two provisions could offer the communities around Lake Martin, citing increased property values and taxes and additional tourism dollars, including State Senator Tom Whatley.
“The economic engine for this area is Lake Martin,” Whatley said. “The lake brings millions of dollars to this area.”
Legal counsel for Russell Lands, Steve Forehand told the commission staff that half of the assessed value of property in Tallapoosa County is lake property and that provisions in questions are projected to add $122 million to the current level tax level.
“That is a significant amount, even by Washington standards,” Forehand told the panel.
Chris Hall, manager at the Winn-Dixie store in Alexander City, told the panel that his store loses $70,000 per week when the water level is lowered for the winter.
“That means I don’t have the hours to give to the $8.05 per hour people working in my store who need it,” Hall explained. “The only thing that can save me is a winning year at Auburn. Six weeks would be a tremendous difference to my business and the people who work for me.”
But Tallapoosa River resident Curtis Tucker faced the assembly when it was his turn at the microphone.
“I am one of those people you are willing to flood,” he told them.
Much of the discussion centered around the EIS concern that some 24 downstream structures could experience increased flood potential at the higher water levels, and many of those present wondered that these concerns would overrule the desires of the 7,000 homeowners on the lake.
FERC’s project engineer, Monty TerHaas said the commission has no specific information about the nature of those structures or the extent to which they can be affected.
“We don’t know how public safety can be affected,” he noted, “and we would ask Alabama Power Company to assist us in our review and give us that information. We can only consider information that is on record, and we have no information about those structures.”
Alabama Power Company spokesman Jim Crew said the power company would be giving FERC the data they needed regarding the structures, which he note were well well within the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s flood zone.
“What they’ve told us tonight is that we either haven’t provided [the information] or we haven’t presented it appropriately, but we’re going to do that, so we can get ths done,” Crew said. “A huge message sent to the FERC folks is how important this is to this community. We’re going to strengthen the case between now and August 13.”
Comments can be filed in the matter until Aug. 13. For instructions about how to submit comments, visit FERC’s website at www.ferc.gov/docs-filing/ecomment.asp.