The misinformation campaign has begun. Some foreign corporations are now trying to spin you against a new grass roots effort (IR 125) that protects your property rights and repeals the Montana Legislature’s recent expansion of eminent domain powers (HB 198). The companies would rather take whatever land of yours they want, at the price they want.
They argue HB 198 only “clarified” existing condemnation law. In reality, the bill was the latest government gift to build mega transmission lines through Montana. The companies that were granted these new powers are desperate to keep the new law, and are trying to convince us we cannot think straight.
It is true Montana’s historic eminent domain law allowed government, and sometimes even private interests, to condemn private property. You would expect no less given the Anaconda Company’s historic control of the state’s economy, and our legislature. However, even the old law written by the Copper Kings required a valid public purpose before the taking. Notably, while our prior condemnation law included electric lines, it did not envision today’s large foreign “merchant” power lines that simply pass through Montana, without benefiting Montanans.
Last year a foreign private transmission company wanting to export wind power to Canada (and ironically subsidized by US taxpayers) sued Montana property owners to take their land. They blamed an admittedly faulty state permitting process that designated the corridor. A District Court said they could not. Thereafter, the company could have: 1. Renegotiated with the landowners, 2. Relocated the line to public land, 3. Moved their state approved corridor or 4. Allowed the Montana Supreme Court to decide if the District Court was right.
Instead, they lobbied the Governor and some legislators for a new law to sue “the lone holdout” landowner again. A utility company that plans to build another large transmission line to serve California also joined them in the Capitol halls. The result was HB 198, a retroactive act that allowed these power line companies to more easily take private land. It is crony capitalism at its worst. Make no mistake; neither power line benefits any Montana consumers.
HB 198 doesn’t just change the rules in the middle of the game. It changes the rules after the game, and awards a new winner. We really don’t play that way in Montana, do we?
Unfortunately, the Governor and just enough bipartisan legislators squeaked the bill through at the 11th hour. Interestingly, if you now ask many of the legislators who voted for the bill, you hear lots of buyers (or sellers?) remorse for supporting it. Since the bill’s passage, over 40 land owners have been sued for their land.
You wouldn’t want a foreign private company opening their business on your front yard, and only pay you the value of your flowerbed. Even if the Copper Kings would have allowed such a travesty 100 years ago, we are now more cognizant of our state and federal constitutional rights.
In 2011, we should not have our private property taken by private power lines (or their windmills), especially without full and fair compensation. If Montana’s corridor permitting system is at fault, let’s change that, and not enable it.
I encourage you to study the facts, and then go to www.Votefor125.com and help gather enough signatures to repeal HB 198, before the Sept. 30 deadline. Reject the expensive misinformation campaign being waged by the power line companies. Remind the power brokers, and their political friends, that your private property is just that… yours.
Art Wittich is the state senator representing Senate District 35.
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