SWEPCO told to stop work in Arkansas wetlands

ARKANSAS - Federal officials have ordered Southwestern Electric Power Co. to stop work in a few acres of wetlands that the utility says were inadvertently cleared during work on the 3,000-acre site of its coal-fired power plant in southwest Arkansas, a regulator with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said.

Mike McNair, chief of the regulatory branch for the corps district at Vicksburg, Miss., said SWEPCO had applied for a permit to work among 10 acres of wetlands at the site but reported March 9 that it might have violated federal regulations after clearing some property, spreading mulch and putting down some fill material.

McNair said that, after corps officials visited the site, the agency issued a cease-and-desist order. He said his office referred the matter to the federal Environmental Protection Agency and SWEPCO's permit application will be on hold, pending a decision by the EPA.

"There were violations on the site," McNair said.

SWEPCO President and Chief Operating Officer Paul Chodak said in a news release that "the potential impacts were unintentional and occurred because of errors in mapping." The release said about 2.5 acres were affected.

"Once we determined this mapping error had occurred, we began an immediate investigation, established broad no-work zones near any potential jurisdictional area, and immediately notified the (Army Engineers)," he said.

SWEPCO spokesman Scott McCloud said in a telephone interview that he could not elaborate on the news release. He said construction on the John W. Turk Jr. plant continues, although he noted that the project has already been delayed 18-20 months primarily because of legal challenges filed by environmentalists, hunters and landowners.

The $1.6 billion plant is scheduled for completion October 1, 2012.

SWEPCO, based in Shreveport, La., is a subsidiary of Columbus, Ohio-based American Electric Power, among the largest electric utilities in the country.


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