CHARLESTON — Landowners in Moultrie, Douglas and Coles counties are awaiting the Illinois Commerce Commission’s final decision, due by March 1, on a newly issued judicial recommendation for the local route of the Illinois Rivers transmission line.
Following a rehearing process for certain proposed segments of this transmission line, Administrative Law Judges John Albers and Stephen Yoder recently issued a proposed order that includes their recommendations for a route from substations in Mt. Zion to Kansas for Ameren Transmission Co. of Illinois’ new line. The judges also recommended granting the company’s request to expand the Kansas substation.
This proposed route enters Moultrie County northwest of Bethany and then takes a southeast path as it stays north of Bethany, Sullivan and Allenville. The route then goes east across northern Coles County, running south of Humboldt. Finally, the route travels southeast in eastern Coles County north of Ashmore on its way to the Kansas substation.
One of the landowners along this proposed route is Brad Morgan, whose family has a grain farm north of Charleston near Rardin. He said this route passes through more than a mile of his family’s sesquicentennial farm. Morgan said his house is in or right next to this route, and homes of five of his family members are nearby.
Morgan said he is concerned that this proposed route for the transmission line would decrease the value of his family’s farmland and their homes, adding that he fears that his home may need to be demolished. He worries that the placement of utility poles would damage his field tile system, interfere with GPS signals, and block the aerial spraying of pesticide and fungicide.
“It is something that makes me sick to think about,” Morgan said. “It is just going to be a nuisance forever.”
In August, the Illinois Commerce Commission gave its approval for Ameren Transmission to build the majority of the nearly 400-mile-long Illinois Rivers transmission line from the Mississippi River near Quincy to the Indiana border near Terre Haute, Ind.
The subsequent rehearing process on segments of the transmission line that still need final approval grew to include rehearing requests from a Piatt, Douglas and Moultrie (PDM) counties coalition of property owners, Channon Family Trust (CFT) and the Moultrie County Landowners Association, among others. In their recommended, the two judges favored the PDM/CFT route from Mt. Zion to Kansas.
“It is clearly the least-cost option which has been presented to the commission, it presents no difficulties in construction or maintenance, and affects fewer property owners than the other options presented. It also appears to better utilize existing corridors such as roads, section lines, and property lines,” the judges wrote.
The judges also wrote, “Regardless of which route is approved…the evidence does not appear to reflect that any residences will need to be removed.”
Beth Bosch, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Commerce Commission, noted that parties to the rehearing process can still file briefs on exceptions to the proposed order until Jan. 29. She said the order will be forwarded to the commission, which will have until March 1 to make any revisions to the order and then make a final decision on the route.
“The issue of the full route is not resolved yet,” Bosch said. “From our standpoint, we are waiting to see what the final route will look like based on rehearing.”
Leigh Morris, a spokesman for Ameren Transmission, said the commission has already determined that the Illinois Rivers line is a necessary transmission infrastructure project and will now make a decision that finalizes the route.
“We are reviewing the proposed order now. Whatever the commission winds up giving approval for, that is what we are going to build,” Morris said, adding that he has been pleased to see local landowners and public officials play an active role in the rehearing process.
Dale Crawford, chairman of the executive committee for the Moultrie County Landowners Association, said the rehearing process for the segment from Mt. Zion to Kansas has been a “tug of war” between landowners trying to minimize the impact of the Illinois Rivers project on homes and agricultural land, including Amish farms, in their respective counties.
Crawford said the Moultrie County Landowners Association formed in fall 2012 as a way to organize local home and farm owners in response to the proposed transmission line. Their organizational efforts have included hiring an attorney to represent them in the rehearing process.
“It is kind of a convoluted and complicated process,” Crawford said. “I am sure people from all sides are ready to get this thing over with. It has drug on for a long time. We are ready to be done with it.”
In Coles County, Morgan said he encourages his fellow landowners to keep track of the Illinois Rivers project on the Illinois Commerce Commission website at www.icc.illinois.gov, under case number 12-0598, and make public comments on the page for this case.
The map of the proposed route also can be found at that Web address.
“Many landowners don’t even realize there is still a possibility of this coming through here,” Morgan said.
Morris said Ameren Transmission does not start seeking easements for a new transmission line in areas that are still subject to rehearing, but it does start this real estate process where it has final approval from the Illinois Commerce Commission. He said the company has begun seeking easements in Clark and Edgar counties. Under such easements, Morris said, the landowners will retain ownership and use of their property.
Bosch said if Ameren Transmission needs to acquire any right of way via eminent domain, the company will have to first seek approval from the Illinois Commerce Commission.
Morris said the nearly 400-line transmission line will be constructed in segments and is scheduled to be fully in service by the end of 2019.
“A transmission line is something that is not a short-term project. It will be serving the area for decades to come,” Morris said of downstate Illinois. “By having a more robust transmission system, it could benefit industry, manufacturing and commercial development. If a company does not have the energy it needs, you can have everything else in place and they still will not come.”
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