Thursday, March 6, 2008
If you've been near Dickson Street lately, you've seen the new monuments to the raw political power of SWEPCO, the corporate utility monopoly that always gets it's way. Last year, the City Council and Fayetteville Downtown Partners dared to question SWEPCO about the giant metal towers they were going to plant through the entertainment district and the historic area. Waste of time.
SWEPCO didn't want to hear it, and they didn't want anyone to publicly question them before their captive and misnamed Public Service Commission. They bullied through a change in the state law to give them authority to do anything in the existing right of way without having to ask permission. It sailed through the legislature, 70-20 in the House and 33-1 in the Senate. Even the Cowbird's house organ thought that a bit much.
The 120-foot tall poles went up across Dickson Street and north along Gregg Avenue. They even went up along Leverett -- 24-inches in diameter and smack dab in the middle of the existing sidewalks -- heavily traveled by students walking to classes. SWEPCO didn't have to ask anyone's permission or take any flack, because they had carte blanche within the right of way. “The poles are going where they need to be placed,” declared SWEPCO spokesman Peter Main. SWEPCO was unaccountable to the city and the citizens, and they acted that way.
City Attorney Kit Williams and Chuck Rutherford, sidewalk and Americans with Disabilities Act administrator for the city, stepped in this week and reminded SWEPCO that their lobbyists forgot to repeal the Americans with Disability Act. Planting the giant poles in the middle of the sidewalk blocked the handicapped and failed to meet the minimum federal standards allowing citizens in wheelchairs to use the sidewalks. When the violation of federal law was called to their attention, SWEPCO manager Tommy Deweese agreed to reroute the sidewalks around their huge poles. Williams says if they comply in a timely fashion, “I do not see any action my office would have to take.”