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MATL, NorthWestern surprised at suit  

Credit:  IR State Bureau, Independent Record, helenair.com 24 May 2011 ~~

Officials from the Montana Alberta Tie Ltd. and NorthWestern Energy expressed surprise over the lawsuit filed late Friday by a dozen farmers who own land in Teton and Pondera counties challenging the state’s newly passed eminent domain law.

As of the middle of last week, MATL was in the middle of setting up mediation with a group of landowners, said Darryl James, its regulatory affairs manager.

“We were surprised by the filing of the suit by Hertha Lund as it is a vast departure from the discussions of late,” James said, referring to the Bozeman attorney representing the landowners.

James said company officials don’t know what the lawsuit will mean for the medication process, but added that it “may force us into premature legal action on these parcels.”

He said the company will continue to make every attempt to negotiate with landowners for the remaining easements.

“We hoped to have open communication with all landowners, but this filing by Ms. Lund may change the dynamic of our discussions with those involved in the suit,’ James said in a written statement. “Regardless, all of the landowners affected by our project will be treated equitably, and we look forward to moving ahead with construction of this important project.”

The farmer-landowners asked District Judge Laurie McKinnon of the Ninth Judicial District to strike down House Bill 198 as unconstitutional. This was one of the most contentious bills of the 2011 Legislature and became law without Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s signature.

The law is intended to overturn an earlier decision by McKinnon, which is being appealed to the Montana Supreme Court, saying that state law doesn’t explicitly give merchant transmission line companies like MATL the power to condemn property.

MATL has been trying to condemn a piece of property near Cut Bank along the 215-mile route of power line, which would run from Great Falls to Lethbridge, Alberta.

An official from NorthWestern Energy, which is not part of MATL but worked for passage of HB198, criticized the lawsuit.

“Apparently the folks opposed to transmission line construction will stop at nothing to destroy the billion dollar capital investment in north central Montana,” said John Fitzpatrick, NorthWestern’s executive director-government affairs. “That amount includes the cost of MATL and about $700 million or more the NaturEner Wind Farm.”

Besides the taking the legal action, HB198 have filed the papers with Secretary of State Linda McCulloch’s office in a bid to gather enough signatures for a referendum to let voters decided in November 2012 whether to keep or throw out the law. They also are trying to get even more signatures to suspend the law and prevent it from taking effect until voters decide the law’s fate.

Source:  IR State Bureau, Independent Record, helenair.com 24 May 2011

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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