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Hundreds of property owners in west-central Illinois are likely to find themselves working with utility company representatives within the coming weeks as a massive, multi-state power transmission route tries to become a reality as early as 2016.
The key to avoid becoming overwhelmed with the process is to know what’s likely to happen, according to an attorney whose firm specializes in land acquisitions. The law firm and others are starting to schedule meetings across the region to discuss plans by Ameren Transmission Co. of Illinois to secure rights-of-way from thousands of landowners across about 330 miles in the state.
Much of the land — and hundreds of the landowners — will be in west-central Illinois, with the line extending from its Illinois entry point in Quincy through Morgan, Brown, Cass, Pike, Schuyler and Scott counties. From there, it goes through Sangamon County and to the state’s eastern border with Indiana.
Attorney Jordan Walker with the Champaign-based law firm Sever|Storey said the process of granting easements can be daunting.
“It is often our experience that landowners are completely overwhelmed by land acquisition from an entity capable of seeking eminent domain authority if the entity so chooses,” he said.
Walker’s firm specializes in eminent domain cases in Illinois, Ohio, Indiana and North Carolina. He said this is one of the largest powerline projects he has seen. Sever|Storey is planning a series of meetings throughout the region to discuss the project with landowners.
Ameren Transmission said the acquisition process would start soon after the mid-August approval of a certificate of public convenience and necessity for the 345,000-volt transmission line by the Illinois Commerce Commission.
The state commission essentially agreed with the utility that the transmission line is needed to upgrade services and safety and prevent outages, as well as for improved efficiency of the electric power grid.
Although eminent domain has not been applied in this project, Walker said he doubts Ameren would have much problem getting such approval. Eminent domain is the approval by the state to allow a government or private entity to take private property for public use.
Even without it, Walker said, “even though it’s well within a landowner’s rights to right tooth and nail and take it to court, one of the realities is that once they got that [certificate of public convenience and necessity], fighting it becomes a pretty uphill battle.”
It is expected the project will require a 150-foot easement and “although property owners will retain full use of the property within the easement, structures may not be built or trees planted within the easement,” according to project documents.
Ameren Real Estate representatives will meet with landowners to discuss the easement process and to ensure that both Illinois Department of Agriculture guidelines are followed and land is restored as close as possible to pre-construction condition when things are done.
Farm Bureau officials in Pike and Scott counties have expressed concerns about plans and wants to make sure the interests of farmers are protected and there is proper compensation for any easements. Members were urged in a letter to have legal counsel before discussing easements.
Because a lot of farmers are not familiar with easements and land acquisitions, “you have this uneven power,” Walker said.
“By learning the process, and what safeguards are available, you put yourself on a more even keel,” he said.
Sever|Storey plans the following meetings in the region: Quincy — 6:30 p.m. today, Quincy Public Library, 526 Jersey St.; Jacksonville — 6:30 p.m. Monday, Jacksonville Public Library, 201 W. College Ave.; Rochester — 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Rochester Public Library, 1 Community Drive
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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