Mediation breaks down between Tonbridge, landowners; Company says it's forced to file condemnation actions
Tonbridge Power Inc. said Thursday it filed condemnation complaints against 11 landowners along the Montana Alberta Tie line transmission route near Dutton after its efforts to mediate landowner concerns failed.
“Mediation was largely unfruitful,” said Darryl James of Tonbridge. “I think it was discouraging for everybody.”
James Kemp, program manager for the MATL project, who took part in the mediation, said in a news release that Tonbridge officials entered mediation believing a compromise could be negotiated on the majority of the issues.
He said the company was “rebuffed” by the landowners and their attorney, Hertha Lund of Bozeman.
A lawsuit brought by 11 landowners in Teton County District Court against the state of Montana and Tonbridge alleges a law passed by the Legislature to clarify Montana’s eminent domain authority, is unconstitutional.
Pole placement affecting farming operations has been a big concern for landowners.
Procedural rules require MATL to file a counterclaim to the legal action against the new eminent domain law in order to preserve the company’s right to exercise eminent domain if necessary, Kemp said.
Mediation occurred Tuesday before retired Montana Supreme Court Justice William Leaphart, Tonbridge said. Kemp said the goal of mediation was to avoid filing the counterclaim and condemnation actions.
An attempt by Tonbridge to condemn land in Glacier County last year was blocked by a district judge, which set off a debate over eminent-domain powers at the Legislature that resulted in House Bill 198, which clarified who has condemnation powers. That law is now in dispute in the Teton County case.
MATL would run between Great Falls and Lethbridge, Alberta and wind developers have purchased the shopping capacity.
Kemp said the delays in the project are driving up the project costs by the millions and threaten the $400 million Rim Rock wind farm near Sunburst.
See additional details in Friday’s Tribune.
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