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Opposition stirring in Bureau County

PRINCETON – There are quite a few unhappy residents in Bureau County Board member Steve Sondgeroth’s end of the county, he says.

They are starting to resent the proposed Rock Island Clean Line energy project, Sondgeroth said at Tuesday’s board meeting.

“There’s a real effort in the Bureau and LaSalle and Mendota area to try and stop this,” he said. “I do want everybody to know that there are a lot of upset people in the northern part of Bureau County that really don’t want to see this.”

Rock Island Clean Line is a subsidiary of Houston-based Clean Line Energy Partners, which is looking at possible routes to carry electricity produced from wind farms in South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota and Iowa though Illinois and eastward. The overhead transmission line would be about 550 miles long and carry up to 3,500 megawatts of electric power.

In June, Clean Line came before the Bureau County Board to give an update on the project. They propose paying Bureau County $7,000 per linear mile per year for 20 years, in lieu of paying property taxes. In July, the Whiteside County Board unanimously approved an agreement with Clean Line that included the same payment plan.

One of the problems, Sondgeroth said, is that Clean Line is asking for public utility status and the right to seize property through eminent domain.

Eminent domain is generally considered to be the right of the state to seize private property without the owner’s permission. “Just compensation” must be paid for the land, which is generally used for issues of the public good.

Eminent domain is a good power for governmental units, not for private businesses, Sondgeroth said.

“In this situation, it’s a private venture, and that’s what I think people are really getting upset about,” he said. “It’s OK if it’s the public taking the private land for the public good, but in this situation, the resentment’s building when the private venture wants to do that.”

Last Monday, the LaSalle County Board agreed to send a resolution to the Illinois Commerce Commission asking for a study of the impact high-voltage power lines would have on residents.

The Commerce Commission is to rule on the request by Sept. 27, he said.

Sondgeroth said he didn’t know if it was in the best interest of the county to have this transmission line, because the company would not be paying any real estate taxes.

“I don’t know if that’s really quite enough or not,” he said.

He said the situation with wind farms, which Sondgeroth said he supports, is different. Wind farms don’t have the power of eminent domain, and they negotiate with individual landlords who don’t have to accept any offer for their property, he said.

If the Rock Island Clean Line receives public utility status, that wouldn’t be the case.

“They would run the line wherever they want, and eminent domain would give them that right to do that,” he said.

Sondgeroth said he wanted to expand the board’s awareness of the project and to ask members to find out more about it.

“People are fearful of something jammed down their throat that’s going to come across their fields and farms, slopes or houses, whatever it might be, with little or no input,” he said.