Story originally published in Springfield State-Journal Register.
JACKSONVILLE — A law firm that specializes in representing property owners in eminent domain cases is telling those who might be in the path of a planned high-voltage transmission line not to accept the first offer for easements on their properties.
Ameren Transmission Co. of Illinois received approval from the Illinois Commerce Commission last month to build a 375-mile transmission line from the Mississippi River near Quincy to the Indiana border near Terre Haute.
Sever Storey, which has offices in Champaign, is holding a series of informational meetings along the approved route for landowners who Ameren Transmission has identified as being affected.
The crowd of more than 60 who showed up to Monday night’s meeting at the Jacksonville Public Library overflowed the basement meeting room where the session was held. There is another meeting tonight in Rochester.
“Our biggest issue as a firm is that landowners don’t know their rights,” attorney Jordan Walker said after the meeting.
Walker said the purpose of the meetings is not only to sign up clients, but to educate property owners about those rights. The firm only gets paid if it is able to get owners a higher price for the easement rights than is initially offered, he said.
Negotiating a price
Ameren Transmission last week sent letters to about 1,500 landowners in the approved path notifying them that it wants to negotiate for easements on their properties, company spokesman Leigh Morris said.
In general, each landowner will be asked to agree to a 150-foot wide easement in which the company plans to put up single-shaft steal poles on concrete bases about 12 feet in diameter, Morris said.
“H structure” and “latticework” poles will only be used where the lines cross the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, he said.
The next step will be for a real estate representative of Ameren Transmission to contact landowners directly to negotiate.
If the company and a landowner are unable to reach an agreement, the company could go back to the commerce commission to receive condemnation authority, Morris said. The company would then have to go to court in the county in which the land is located, and a judge or jury would determine the price of the easement.
“It’s not something we really want to see happen,” he said, adding that it could take up to a year to complete. If landowners agree to the easements, they will be able to continue using the land for agriculture or other uses.
“The only significant thing that’s not allowed on that land, you can’t build a structure on it within the easement,” Morris said.
But Walker said landowners shouldn’t be eager to accept an offer right away.
“Always remember, you have leverage as a landowner, and leverage always equals money,” he said.
Walker also encouraged those at the meeting to seek “competent legal counsel” to help them through the process and told them not to feel rushed.
He also suggested forming groups to strengthen their bargaining power.
George Young, who has lived on 10 acres in the 800 block of Water Tower Road in Jacksonville for nearly 30 years, was one of those who received a letter from Ameren Transmission.
“We’ve heard so many stories from so many different places, that was one of the reasons to come here tonight, to see if anyone knew anything,” Young said.
He left with many questions unanswered, including the exact path of the transmission line, he said.
“Until you know exactly where it’s going, you can’t make any decisions,” Young said.
He came to the meeting with neighbor Tom Lonergan, who is facing a tough decision about the 5-acre property that’s been in his family for nearly 100 years.
He’d like to build a new house on the land but can’t move forward with those plans until he knows how the transmission line might affect it.
“I don’t want to leave that property, but I might have to,” he said.
Ameren Transmission itself is still facing some uncertainty about the route. The commerce commission did not approve one section of the proposed path — a 30-mile stretch running southeast of Springfield from Pawnee to Pana. The line would then continue to Mount Zion. Commission staff recommended an alternative of building a transmission line from Kincaid to Mount Zion and making use of existing high-voltage lines running from Pawnee to Kincaid and Kincaid to Pana.
Morris, the Ameren Transmission spokesman, said the company plans to file a request for rehearing on that portion of the project by next week’s deadline.
The commerce commission “made it very clear that the entire project is very necessary,” Morris said.
If you think you may be affected by the Ameren Three Rivers Project and/or are interested in a free consultation, contact our eminent domain landowner attorneys at 1-888-318-3761 or visit us on the web at www.landownerattorneys.com.
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