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Proposed power line project sparks controversy in Northeast Iowa

PARKERSBURG, Iowa – A proposed electric transmission line, stretching from northwest Iowa to near Chicago, is sparking controversy which moved into northeast Iowa on Tuesday. A private company called Rock Island Clean Line Energy wants to sell Iowa wind power to users in Illinois and points to the east. The high power lines would run through 17 Iowa counties, 500 miles in all, to near Chicago.

What concerns some land owners and farmers is the belief the private company could use eminent domain to force the power line onto their property.

Supporters say the wind energy transmission line would mean $7 billion of new wind farms in Iowa and would create thousands of construction and permanent jobs. But that can only happen if Clean Line gets a clear path.

Grundy County farmer Ted Junker, and several of his neighbors, want nothing to do with Clean Line on their property. Power lines with towers more than 100 feet tall would run less than a half-mile from his house. He said construction would compact the soil and create barriers he’d have to farm around forever.

“We’re really not interested in having a power line near our property at all. And there’s no dollar amount I’d say let’s do it,” Junker said.

The company can’t start talking price with landowners until all the public hearings are finished. Two took place Tuesday, one in Hampton and one in Parkersburg. More are set for Wednesday in Grundy Center and Waterloo.

The hope is that the meeting will show the benefits of sending Iowa wind power to where demand is greatest. Supporters say without the new transmission line, Iowa can’t construct many more wind generators because there’s not enough demand here.

The Paul Johnson family said the issue is personal for them. The rural Grundy County family said the footprint of the power line easement, running 200 feet wide, would swallow up the barn they’ve converted into a home.

“So for us, we’re not looking at towers a half-mile away on the horizon, we’re looking straight up,” Paul Johnson said.

Some have concerns about power lines so close, but their greatest fear is a private company getting state permission to condemn land for their project.

Beth Conley, a Clean Line Iowa manager, said the company wants cooperation not conflict. “Absolutely eminent domain is a last resort and we’re up front in the conversation that voluntary easement is a goal,” Conley said.

The company proposing the $2 billion power line must convince enough land owners among the preferred route and the Iowa Utilities Board for the project to move forward. If that happens, construction might start in 2015.