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Story originally published in Springfield State-Journal Register.
Landowners across central Illinois are asking state regulators to reconsider portions of the approved route for Ameren Transmission Co.’s 375-mile Illinois Rivers Project high-voltage power line.
The company, meanwhile, has asked the Illinois Commerce Commission to hear additional information about its proposed routes from Pawnee to Pana and Pana to Mount Zion. Those sections were not included when the commission last month approved the rest of the route, which runs from the Mississippi River near Quincy to the Indiana border near Terre Haute.
Lawyers representing a group of landowners from Morgan, Sangamon and Scott counties filed an application Wednesday asking the commerce commission to reconsider the approved path from Meredosia to Pawnee. Theirs is one of about half a dozen such requests from counties across the midsection of the state.
Ed McNamara, one of the lawyers for the Morgan, Sangamon and Scott county group, said the expedited approval process the commerce commission used for the project — the product of a 2010 state law that Ameren backed — didn’t give landowners and others who will be affected enough time to gather information and respond to the company’s proposals.
That’s one of the reasons his clients want to reopen the discussion, he said.
“Give everyone a chance to have their say because these poles are going to be in the ground long past the time we’re on this earth, so it’s a very important thing,” McNamara said.
More specifically, McNamara’s clients are advocating that the new 345-kilovolt transmission line run parallel to an existing 138-kilovolt line as opposed to following the commission-approved route.
The approach his clients are suggesting, which another group of landowners and tenant farmers originally proposed before agreeing with Ameren Transmission on the alternate route the commission ultimately approved, is 18 miles shorter and would cost $36.8 million less to build, McNamara said.
The shorter route had the support of commerce commission staff and, unlike the other possible routes, wouldn’t adversely affect any of the parties involved, he said. McNamara is also representing a group of farmers in southern Sangamon County who support this alternative.
However, the commission determined that the approved path was “the least-cost route when all costs and benefits are taken into account,” according to its Aug. 20 decision.
In reference to the shorter route, Ameren Transmission spokesman Leigh Morris said “one of the concerns always is reliability” when two transmission lines run parallel, as one strong storm could knock out both.
“The commission’s approved a route,” Morris said. “We’re satisfied with the route that was approved.”
As for McNamara’s criticism of the process, Morris said the company went above and beyond legal requirements for informing landowners.
The company held three public meetings in each affected county over the course of six months, mailed invitations to landowners and took out large ads in area newspapers, he said.
In a separate filing, Andrew and Stacy Robinette of rural Waverly asked the commission to rehear their suggestion to reroute a portion of the approved path to move it away from their recently built home on DeLong Road and run it through farm fields instead.
The commission did not consider the merits of their proposal in making its decision and misidentified the route as being 75.2 miles instead of half a mile, according to their application for rehearing. Their attorney could not be reached for comment.
Pawnee to Pana
While Ameren Transmission is satisfied with the approved route, it is asking the commerce commission to reconsider the section that was not approved.
Instead of building the proposed segments from Pawnee to Pana and Pana to Mount Zion, commission staff recommended that the company build a new transmission line from Kincaid to Mount Zion and use existing high-voltage lines running from Pawnee to Kincaid and Kincaid to Pana to complete the project.
The commission did not approve the path from Pawnee to Pana because it determined it might not be the least-cost option.
In its application for rehearing, the company said there was no evidence presented to support the Kincaid alternative.
A rehearing would allow the commission “to consider additional evidence substantiating the operational and reliability benefits associated with a Pawnee-Pana-(Mount) Zion route compared to a Kincaid option,” according to the filing.
The company is also asking the commission to hear additional information about the proposed locations of six substations that were not approved in the earlier order, including ones in Pana and Mount Zion.
Morris said the order made it clear that the entire project was necessary, and these approvals are necessary to complete the project.
“There is an urgency to complete this project,” he said, adding that it is a “key component to a much more vigorous transmission system in this country” and will be “mightily” beneficial to Illinois.
The company knew that it was possible portions of the approved path would be reconsidered, he said.
After receiving requests for rehearing, the commission has 20 days to decide whether to grant them.
Ameren Transmission still expects to complete the first segment of the project by December 2016 and the rest by December 2019.
“There is nothing that has occurred that would indicate that those dates are unrealistic,” Morris said.
While the regulatory process moves forward, Ameren Transmission has started taking steps toward acquiring the necessary land.
Affected landowners have already received letters from the company, and a real estate representative should be contacting them individually in the near future to begin negotiating, Morris said.
He encouraged landowners to stay engaged in the process.
“If you don’t understand something, keep asking questions until you do understand,” Morris said.
In general, they will be asked to agree to a 150-foot wide easement in which the company plans to put up single-shaft steel poles on concrete bases about 12 feet in diameter.
Jordan Walker is an attorney with Sever Storey, a law firm specializing in eminent domain cases that has been holding informational meetings for landowners along the route.
At the meetings, including ones in Jacksonville and Rochester, Walker encourage landowners not to accept the first amount the company offers for easement rights.
Walker said the firm has signed up several clients along the route already and expects to represent more than 100 once the company starts making offers. His firm only gets paid if it is able to negotiate a price higher than Ameren Transmission’s initial offer.
“We’re confident in our abilities, and if people are concerned about their offers, they’re more than welcome to contact us,” Walker said. “If Ameren offers a just amount, there’s not much else I can do. But there’s a reason I have a job.”
The firm will probably hold another meeting in the area once the commerce commission makes a determination on the Pawnee-to-Pana route, he 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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