UPPER THUMB – An eminent domain attorney said earlier this week while an appeal still could be filed in the next couple of weeks, the Michigan Public Service Commission’s Feb. 25 approval of the new Thumb Loop Project means landowners with property along the route in Tuscola, Huron, Sanilac and St. Clair counties will at some point be approached by ITCTransmission in regard to gaining right-of-ways for the transmission project.
As to whether ITC expects an appeal, ITCTransmission Senior Capital Communications Specialist Joe Kirik said, “Any party to the case has a right to appeal within 30 days of the Commission issuing its order. It would be handled like any other appeal where the parties have an opportunity to brief the issues and the court will hear oral arguments.”
Whether or not there is an appeal, ITC will be contacting landowners who have property along the approved route to discuss how the line will affect their property, Kirik said.
Ackerman said appeals could be filed by a group called ABATE, which objected to ITC’s proposed Thumb Loop Project when it was going through the process of gaining approval from the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC).
The Thumb Loop Project consists of approximately 140 miles of double-circuit 345,000 volt (345 kV) transmission lines and four new substations, according to ITCTransmission. It will serve as the “backbone” of a system designed to meet the identified maximum wind energy potential of the Thumb region and will be capable of supporting a maximum capacity of about 5,000 MW.
ABATE objected the size of the line and the cost of the project, which is estimated at about $510 million and will be paid by ratepayers in the 13 states in the Midwest ISO footprint. The Midwest ISO is the power grid operator for much of the U.S. Midwest.
If an appeal were filed, it would be devastating for his clients and others with property along the proposed route, said Alan Ackerman, a Bloomfield Hills attorney who has been exclusively representing landowners in eminent domain and condemnation cases for more than 30 years.
Ackerman represents three large farms, one located in Sanilac County and two in Tuscola County, that are concerned about the effects the Thumb Loop will have on their farming operations.
He there are a number of factors that have resulted in this project, including a need to improve the grid, a push for clean, renewable energy and focus on wind power development in the Thumb.
Now the project’s received approval from the MPSC, it’s a reality and having an appeal filed only will delay the inevitable, Ackerman said.
He said it would be devastating for farmers and other landowners who would be at risk for putting any improvements on their land where the loop may traverse.
If the loop was constructed now, rather than later, those landowners would at least know where they stand and where they can farm in the future, and build residences or other buildings.
Regardless of whether an appeal is filed, ITC will be contacting landowners to begin negotiations for right-of-ways the company needs to construct the Thumb Loop Project, and Ackerman said it’s important landowners do not bury their heads in the sand.
“ITC is not going to try to cheat people, but the worst advice to give to someone is to not talk to ITC, because if you don’t talk to them, ITC will put the line wherever they want,” Ackerman said.
He recommends landowners talk to an attorney, but those who don’t want to consult a lawyer still need to communicate with ITC because landowners do have some control over where they put the line, so harm is minimized as much as possible.
Lawyer up if you’re
When asked at what point should a landowner hire a lawyer, Ackerman said people should hire a lawyer when they don’t feel comfortable handling the situation themselves.
“When ITC approaches you, or at the very latest, if they either make an offer you’re not comfortable with or you think (it should be) more, that’s when you want to pull a lawyer in,” he said.
Ackerman said it’s likely the landowner will not be charged an attorney fee, or if they do, he or she will be reimbursed by ITC through a settlement or through the court process.
“They won’t fight about fees,” he said.
ITC also will not about fight about minimizing harm, Ackerman said.
“They will do as little damage as possible because they have to pay for it and will want to spend as little money as possible,” he said. “They don’t want to injure anybody, because if they do, they have to pay for it.”
There are a number of things landowners need to be aware of as negotiations begin, Ackerman said. For those who shy away from attorneys, the following is a list of tips he previously offered:
• Keep quiet, get the offer in writing and figure out what the basis of the offer is.
• Figure out exactly where the pipeline, wires, etc. are being installed. How will this affect the property next year? In 20 years? Does it destroy the farm tiles?
• Make sure you know what your local government mandates.
• Get everything in writing, make sure you can understand it and make sure it’s specific. Do not sign anything until you have read it thoroughly and understand it.
• Keep the property well maintained.
• Keep in mind the people who come to negotiate the use of your property are professionals at this.
• Get an independent assessment.
• Get exact definitions.
For more advice for landowners, visit www.ackerman-ackerman.com/what-we-do.
Read the full version of this article in the Huron Daily Tribune or online in our e-Edition.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding