A high voltage transmission line proposed to run across Illinois through hundreds of miles of farmland – including Lee County – has met with growing opposition from area landowners and farmers. The Rock Island Clean Line (RICL) was touted as a “green energy” project that would transmit wind energy from western Iowa and Nebraska to consumers mainly in east coast states with a small amount possibly going to Chicago. In order to carry out the plan, corridors of farmland would be needed for construction of the towers to carry the lines.
Announcement of the plan was made locally during landowner meetings in June of 2011. Afterward, as area residents discussed the proposal with their friends and neighbors, it became apparent that no one was in favor of having the lines running through their property for a variety of reasons including the fact that modern farming practices would be seriously hampered with the placement of 28 by 28-foot lattice structures in farmers’ fields and moreover, thousands of acres of land would be taken totally out of production “in perpetuity.”
It was also discovered that many landowners in the proposed corridors had no idea their property was in a proposed route, even though RICL claimed everyone was made aware of the project and meeting schedule.
As local landowners learned more about RICL and the affect it would have not only on farmers but on all residents of the state, they joined forces forming a group called Block RICL to oppose the project. This summer on Aug. 29, hundreds of concerned landowners attended an informational meeting about Block RICL at the Mendota Civic Center. Also attending that meeting was Illinois Farm Bureau president Phil Nelson and Illinois Farm Bureau attorney Laura Harmon as well as a dozen LaSalle County board members.
Although held in Mendota, many other communities were represented by concerned farmers and landowners including those from Rock Falls, Tampico, Walnut and Morris. The goal of the meeting was to detail various concerns with the project and offer ways for individuals to make their voices heard.
Nelson told the crowd that the Illinois Farm Bureau heard from a number of landowners who would be impacted by RICL and had chosen to intervene. “We think there needs to be close scrutiny to this,” Nelson emphasized. “If it is going to come through, go along I-80 as an alternative route but they don’t seem too interested in that.”
Illinois Farm Bureau attorney Laura Harmon said she was very pleased to see so many landowners working together and pointed out that this was the first time the Farm Bureau had intervened with the ICC (Illinois Commerce Commission). She said ICC proceedings could be followed online [www.icc.Illinois.gov] and recommended everyone do so. Harmon agreed that while it would seem logical to put the line along I-80, RICL does not want to deal with the federal government. “It’s much easier to roll over the farmers and threaten to use eminent domain,” she said.
Harmon also emphasized that landowners should not sign any type of easement from the company. “We recommend hiring counsel,” she said. “Go together as a group if need be to help keep the expense down. These companies try to divide and conquer, pick you off one by one.”
Another key point given by Block RICL was the project’s lack of merit. Attendees were told that the high power line would not benefit the State of Illinois citing current studies that show the use of offshore wind from sources such as Lake Michigan and the Atlantic coast are gaining popularity, in part because energy production would be close to its destination. In addition, the governors of 10 east coast states have written twice to Congress saying they do not want Midwest wind, which would undermine production of wind energy in their own states.
LaSalle County Board president Jerry Hicks said board members attended the meeting to “listen to concerns and get as educated as possible.” Board member Steve Abel noted that RICL had already reached agreements with Whiteside and Grundy counties. “At this time, LaSalle County hasn’t reached any agreement with them and I don’t think we have any intention of doing that any time soon,” Abel said, drawing applause from the crowd. “We’re going to wait and see what happens with the ICC. They want us to approve their project and say it’s going to be a great asset to the county. I don’t think we’re willing to do that at this time.”
Jack Cantlin of Earlville said the one thing everyone can do is vote and to remind their representatives of that. “Voice your concern about stopping a multi-billion-dollar, out-of-state corporation from taking our farmland,” he said. “This is not the silver bullet for Illinois economics. If they get regulated utility status, they can get eminent domain. That’s why it’s so important to block this now. I don’t know how long forever is but they want to take this land FOREVER out of production…we produce food. Food is one of the most important commodities now and in the future.”
Cantlin said this area was blessed with some of the best soil in the world and that soil should not be taken out of production. “It’s interesting how someone draws a line from northwestern Iowa to Morris, Ill. and comes straight across some of the best farmland in the world,” he commented. “Why? They think we’re a bunch of dumb farmers out here and it’s going to be an easy trip across the state. Don’t give up on this. Not ever.”
Those attending were strongly encouraged to contact their government representatives and the ICC with their concerns and to write letters to their local newspapers. They were provided with names and addresses as well as the ICC docket number for the case.
Last week, however, Block RICL learned that the ICC had granted a motion by RICL to withdraw and close the current docket, which means the 185 public comments already sent to the ICC for that docket number will be invalid. If RICL reapplies with the ICC, which they are expected to do, a new docket number will be assigned and the public will have to resubmit their comments.
Block RICL sees this maneuver as a “tactic” used by the company because of the growing opposition from landowners. The group now suggests contacting Gov. Pat Quinn, Sen. Richard Durbin, Sen. Mark Kirk and Rep. Randy Hultgren as well as state representatives Sen. Tim Bivins and Rep. Jerry Mitchell to voice their concerns.
To contact Block RICL for more information or updates, e-mail SaveOurFarmland@hotmail.com.
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