Independence County Hydro Electric Program Under Fire

October 19, 2006--Posted at 6:45 p.m. CDT

BATESVILLE, AR--Harnessing the power of moving water, that's the goal of the White River Hydro Electric Project.

The project is in the process of installing three electricity generating plants in Independence County. However one group in Independence County is looking for accountability for the Hydro Electric Program.

"$45 million dollars is a big project and we need to make sure it is managed properly," said Don Bice, Vice President for Tax Control & Responsible Government.

The Citizens for Tax Control and Responsible Government believe the project is being mismanaged.  An engineer they spoke with believes one of the three dams is destined to fail in the next five to ten years if not repaired.

"They found a lot of problems like cracks, four foot high cracks that are 25 feet long that sort of thing. Particularly, lock and dam three, that is where we are primarily concerned," said Bice.

The goal of Bice's group is to have an independent party audit of both the financial and structural safety of the project. They want to do this because if one of the dams were to break, it would be a major catastrophe for anyone who lives along the White River in Independence County.

"If it fails and there is a good chance of that, without being repaired. If it fails you are looking at a 30 foot wall of water, in addition to whatever flood waters you have at the time," said Bice.

However, the White River Hydro Electric Program believes those estimates are exaggerated.

"There would be minimal effect. There is little development down stream. The water would go through the banks and dissipate," said Rita Potts, coordinator of White River Hydro Electric Project.

The White River Hydro Electric Project says they are in compliance with their license. They don't object to an audit, because they have had financial audits since the program began. In addition, they have had several engineers pass the project as safe.

"Four, that would be Morrison-Knudsen, who did the originally dam inspection and we have three Arkansas engineers that have confirmed that," said Potts.

Currently, one of the three dams is producing electricity and they feel the other two will be functional by early spring. The White River Hydro Electric Program sells all of the electricity they produce to the town of Clarksville.