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Grain Belt Express faces eminent domain challenge

Opponents of a planned electric transmission project hope action in the Missouri Capitol can stave off a bid to build the power network over their property.

A bill filed by Rep. Dr. Jim Neely, R-Cameron, seeks to change state law concerning eminent domain powers exercised by utilities. The measure would erase the power of eminent domain in certain counties along the route. In an executive session Wednesday, the bill passed out of a House utilities committee and could head to the House floor for debate, depending on the preference of the chamber’s leadership. It could also be attached to another bill and still stand a chance for approval.

Clean Line Energy Partners is hoping to build the electric transmission line through the region that it has dubbed as the Grain Belt Express. Its intent is to provide a link from a western Kansas wind farm complex to supply a request for power needs expressed by eastern states.

Information released by Block Grain Belt Express Missouri said farmers along the line’s proposed route are upset over eminent domain as an option for taking land by force. The grassroots group formed to oppose the project and said eminent domain could lead to other large utility transmission projects throughout the state.

Dr. Neely said there’s a good amount of public support for the bill, despite the admitted lack of a hearing.

“Now we’ve got to move it on, get the speaker’s (Tim Jones’) attention and get it on the calendar,” he said. “We all really need to get behind the Public Service Commission and governor and bring it to their attention.”

If the measure does not pass this session, Dr. Neely said he intends to prefile similar legislation in December for the 2015 Missouri General Assembly to consider.

Mark Lawlor, a representative for Clean Line, said the company maintains eminent domain is part of a toolbox for a project it believes brings public benefit.

“We certainly think it would be problematic for transmission development,” he said. “There wasn’t even a hearing … It attempts to single out the Grain Belt program without mentioning it by name.”

Removing eminent domain would set the wrong precedent in Missouri public policy for all utilities, Mr. Lawlor said.

“That sends a bad signal to business,” he added. “We will certainly be following it closely.”

Otherwise, Mr. Lawlor said Clean Line remains focused on efforts to reach out to landowners to explain its plans. More property owners are signing easement agreements, he said, consenting to offer their land for Grain Belt’s use.