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Large crowd shows up for KCC hearing

More than 400 people turned out in Seneca Monday for a public hearing held by state regulators who will decide the fate of a controversial transmission line proposal.

“My land is not for sale,” was an oft-used phrase among landowners at the hearing and it drew plenty of applause in the packed Seneca Community Building hearing before the three-member Kansas Corporation Commission.

Landowners repeatedly expressed concern about the potential use of eminent domain by Clean Line Energy Partners, a Houston-based company that seeks to build a 700-mile, high-voltage transmission line from southwest Kansas to the eastern U.S.

The hearing was the first of four the KCC will hold before going into technical hearings later this fall to decide whether to approve Clean Line’s siting permit. Presiding at the hearing were KCC Chairman Mark Sievers, commissioner Thomas E. Wright and commissioner Shari Feist Albrecht.

The three listened to and received written testimony from landowners affected by Clean Line’s siting permit application, which if approved will result in construction of the direct-current transmission line, dubbed the Grain Belt Express, through 19 counties in Kansas, including Marshall.

Before the testimony, Clean Line Executive Vice President Jimmy Glotfelty told the crowd that Kansas has huge wind-energy potential and that Clean Line is working to address the challenge of providing this energy to urban areas east of Kansas.

After Glotfelty spoke, Clean Line representatives fielded questions from the crowd. Questions ranged from compensation packages that Clean Line has offered to landowners, Clean Line’s tax-exempt status and the health effects of the high-powered transmission line.

“We understand that transmission projects will have an impact, but we want to do what we can in siting the transmission line to minimize those impacts. That’s what drives the whole routing process,” said Mark Lawlor, Clean Line director of development.

The proposal was met with testimony highly critical of the line. Only a few spoke in favor.

“Every form of power we employ has some negative aspects, but it’s unrealistic to use that in impeding power usage,” said Phil Osborne, Blue Rapids. “Had fear controlled us we wouldn’t be here. Vehicle travel and the use of gasoline both have inherent risks. As a population we accept risks when benefits outweigh dangers. That’s the case here. I encourage you to approve this proposal by Clean Line Energy.”

Baileyville area farmer Richard Strathman was among several dozen who testified against the line.

“I am a farmer and a livestock producer and this power line runs right across the top of my farm and my livestock,” Strathman said. “How could you grant public utility status to a group of investors that didn’t own a pole? They don’t own a power line. They don’t own a truck. All they got is money.”

Several local elected officials testified in opposition, including Marshall County commissioner Charlie Loiseau, 62nd district state Rep. Randy Garber and 106th district state Rep. Sharon Schwartz.

“As any good elected official, we’re here to represent our people. My constituents, not only in my district but throughout the county, have not had any good comments about the transmission line,” Loiseau said.

Garber expressed concern with the eminent domain process that his constituents could face if they choose not to work with Clean Line building across their land.

“I do not believe in and I do not support eminent domain. If landowners don’t want to give up their land they shouldn’t have to,” Garber said.

KCC litigation counsel Judy Jenkins said regulators will ultimately make their decision on whether to approve Clean Line’s proposed route through Kansas based on the necessity of the proposed line and the reasonableness of the company’s location, taking into account any potential alternative routes.

Jenkins said that when Clean Line’s siting application was filed on July 15, a 120-day clock started ticking.

“A lot of work takes place in these 120 days. A majority of the (KCC) staff’s time is spent processing the public comments, mapping out and considering any and all alternative routes proposed by landowners who may be potentially impacted by construction if the permit is approved,” Jenkins said.

A technical hearing is set for Oct. 8-10. The commission’s final order is expected on or before Nov. 12.

The KCC will accept written comments from the public through Aug. 28.

The second hearing was to be at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 14, in Beloit. The next will be at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Russell and a final hearing is set for 6 p.m. Aug. 22 at Kinsley.