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Wyoming Legislature fails to settle eminent domain issue

CHEYENNE – The state Legislature failed to settle the sensitive issue of whether wind farm developers can forcibly take land so they can stretch power lines to their turbines.

Instead, lawmakers who ended their 2011 session last week extended a moratorium banning private wind developers from using eminent domain for another two years, meaning the issue will be back again.

“I hope, in some form, somebody will come up with some idea that can satisfy all sides to the problem,” said Rep. Kermit Brown, R-Laramie and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Eminent domain is the forced acquisition of private property for public use and has been used to build railroads, pipelines and other projects deemed necessary for the public good.

Lawmakers in 2010 imposed a one-year moratorium after concerns were raised about a potential boom in wind farm development and the extensive network of power lines required.

There were fears that many landowners would not receive fair treatment and compensation in acquiring their land for the so-called connector lines because of the power of eminent domain hanging over their heads.

With hundreds of turbines making up individual wind farms, the potential number of collector lines can be numerous and involve multiple landowners surrounding the land where the wind turbines are located.

A legislative task force chaired by Brown worked between last session and the 2011 session to study the eminent domain issue but was divided on a solution.

Two bills that attempted to deal with the matter quickly failed this year, and legislators settled on the moratorium extension until 2013.

“That extension will expire in two years and they’ll again have the right of eminent domain if something isn’t done,” Brown said.

Dan Sullivan, a lobbyist for the Wyoming Power Producers Coalition, said the moratorium singles out the wind industry even though he’s not aware of eminent domain being used to condemn land for any wind projects in the state. Public utility companies still have the power to condemn land because those companies are subjected to government oversight.

“I think it sends a bad message to the industry that I think at least 10 or 12 years ago the state was trying to encourage that industry to come to Wyoming and to exploit the wind energy resource we have here,” Sullivan said Monday.

However, he said not much wind farm development that may require eminent domain powers is expected in Wyoming over the next couple of years.

Legislators did approve a bill that ties wind rights to the surface property.

“I think one of the things that made passage of that bill work was 100 and some years of history in this state with the split estate between the surface and the minerals and a desire not to have all that start over again with another split-off estate, which would be the wind estate,” Brown said.

[rest of article available at source]