PARKERSBURG | Members of the audience Tuesday afternoon exuded hostility toward a proposed high voltage, overhead transmission line – before, during and after a meeting designed to distribute information about the project.
“I’m skeptical,” Randy Williamson of Parkersburg said as the event broke up.
Though he conceded representatives of Rock Island Clean Line and the Iowa Utilities Board answered his and other questions, Williamson said he was not satisfied.
“I’m convinced this is Phase 1. They’ve got bigger plans,” he added. “It just doesn’t smell right.”
The company’s proposed project would cut across 17 counties in Iowa, transmitting direct electrical current generated by wind turbines in northwest Iowa to consumers in Illinois and points farther east.
Additional meetings were scheduled at 9 a.m. today in Grundy Center and 3 p.m. in Waterloo. A session is also planned at 9 a.m. Thursday in Brandon.
The Iowa Utilities Board and Clean Line organized a morning session Tuesday at the Franklin County Fairgrounds in Hampton and an afternoon session at the American Legion in Parkersburg. The goal was to share details about the preferred route and compensation for affected landowners. The intent was not to debate the project’s merits, Jim Sundemeyer, the board’s representative, told the crowds.
But that is exactly what developed in Butler County, which will only host 1 3/4 miles of the 500-mile line. Many filling the seats own property in neighboring Grundy County, which holds 38.2 miles of the proposed route.
The question of whether the project “served the public good” surfaced several times. In responding, Sundemeyer drew a distinction, noting the requirement to earn a franchise from the utilities board under Iowa law is “public use.”
“‘Public’ is not limited to inside Iowa,” he added.
That prompted a question about how much resistance from the public would be necessary to kill the project.
“It’s not a poll or a popularity contest. It’s not 10 percent or 90 percent,” Sundemeyer said.
If Clean Line can make a case establishing a need for the transmission line and follows other regulations, Sundemeyer said, the board is bound to grant a franchise.
“It’s based on law,” he added.
After the meeting in Hampton, Murray McMurray said he was open to working with Clean Line.
“I got answers to my questions. I don’t know if it was what I was hoping for,” he said.
McMurray lives near Webster City but owns land in Franklin County that his family rents to farmer Kevin Kew near Meservey.
“I get the compensation. He gets the pain in the ass farming around it,” McMurray said.
In his case, McMurray wanted to know why the transmission line must make two 90-degree turns on his land. After the meeting, he spoke to an engineer about extending the line to the farm’s border, then turning.
“Which they thought was do-able,” McMurray said.
“I would say they were very cooperative that way. The end result is yet to be seen,” he added.
Participants in the meetings Tuesday also learned about proposed compensation for granting an easement and hosting a supporting structure and overhead wires. In an example provided by Julie Rasmussen, a member of Clean Line’s contract land staff, a property owner in Franklin County would receive slightly more than $103,000.
The example was based on two “monopole” towers and a half mile of wires over about 8 acres of land. Using other variables, like larger, four-legged structures, would affect the potential payout. Such a lattice tower, for instance, would be worth a one-time payment of $18,000 or annual payments of $1,500.
In Franklin County, the company uses a figure of 90 percent of fair market value for the land, or $10,400 per acre.
In Butler County, the amount was $10,000 per acre. Using the same scenario, the payment would be $99,900, according to Rasmussen.
Farmers and landowners also learned Clean Line will pay for crop losses, now and in the future.
“For as long as the loss of yield exists,” Rasmussen said.
Harold Prior of Milford, executive director of the Iowa Wind Energy Association, injected his views during the question and answer period in Hampton. He noted northwest Iowa has essentially reached the limit on the number of wind turbines the area will allow because transmission lines are not available.
The Clean Line project would allow expansion of the industry in the state, according to Prior. He estimated another 2,000 wind turbines could go up after the line is constructed.
“This is very much Iowa’s newest cash crop,” he added.
A voice in the crowd, however, questioned the benefit locally.
“We’re not northwest Iowa. We’re central Iowa,” the man called out, prompting a bit of applause.
Another member of the audience offered a similar refrain about sending electricity out of state.
“Why don’t we take care of our own before we take care of Illinois?” the man asked.
Beth Conley, Clean Line’s representative in Iowa, said Iowa is No. 3 in the nation in wind generation behind Texas and California. She said 24 percent of Iowa’s electricity is wind-generated.
“That really blows the other states out of the water,” Conley said.
Landowner Milton Heyde of Hampton was apparently among those not particularly concerned about Clean Line’s impact on his property.
“It’s not a big deal,” he said. “I think I kind of heard enough.”
Heyde said he supports wind energy and liked the option the transmission line might represent.
“If we ever put in a wind farm, I’d like to be able to tap into it,” he added.
McMurray was not yet ready to endorse the project. He noted Clean Line’s option to request eminent domain authority to place power poles over landowners’ objections.
“You’re not going to fight this. They’re just going to condemn properties,” McMurray added.
Williamson said he also felt at a disadvantage.
“They can answer any question. We’re not a bunch of legal attorneys,” Williamson said. “They can handle us.”
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