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Holdouts file injunction in eminent domain claim

A group of Ford County landowners whose properties are the subject of an eminent domain claim by the Mid-Kansas Electric Company are seeking an injunction to halt the process that began in earnest, Tuesday.

Judge Van Z. Hampton, who is officiating the eminent domain process, said an injunction is “the only method to defend against the condemnation action,” as the eminent domain process is explicitly defined by state law and does not follow the civil trial rules of procedure. As such, the injunction is considered a separate action.

The injunction had not been assigned to a judge or date set as of Tuesday afternoon.

Meanwhile, the eminent domain claim by Mid-Kansas continues, and three appraisers were named by the court to determine fair market value of the 28 tracts of land named in the claim. Mid-Kansas is seeking the use of a 100-foot wide by 18-mile stretch of land from Spearville to North Fort Dodge to construct a 115,000-volt transmission line.

The two sides agreed to select Bucklin realtor and appraiser Spike Cossell, auctioneer Wade Kirk, also of Bucklin, and Jody Wetzel of Southwest Appraisal Service. By law, court-appointed appraisers must be qualified (but not necessarily certified) and live within Ford County.

Under state law, utilities are given a relatively free hand in claiming eminent domain under the assumption that utilities serve the public good. Utilities largely escaped a tightening of eminent domain signed into law in 2006, a reaction to eminent domain being claimed for construction of the Kansas Speedway in Kansas City. Those types of eminent domain claims now have to go through the Kansas Legislature for approval.

Eminent domain, also known as condemnation, is the power of a government to force a property owner to relinquish that property for fair compensation.

A group of the landowners along the transmission line’s route refused to sign contracts offered by Mid-Kansas, claiming the contracts came with too few dollars and too many caveats, like a requirement to maintain liability for the line that runs through their land, but without being offered annual compensation.

Further, the landowners contend, the line is not being built to serve the public good but to serve private investors looking for cheap transmission from the Spearville area wind farm to out-of-state metropolitan areas.

For its part, Mid-Kansas has said the line is being built as a requirement to maintain interconnectivity with the rest of the electric grid at the demand of the Southwest Power Pool, a corporation that oversees power grid infrastructure development and interconnectivity in several states.

Andy Stein of Doll Law Firm, the Dodge City attorney representing a portion of the holdouts, said the injunction petition will allow his clients to determine if the line constitutes a public good through the civil trial procedure.

Unless or until the landowners are granted injunctive relief – a halt to the eminent domain process – the appraisal process will continue, Hampton said. The three appointed appraisers will have 45 days to determine the value of the land sought by Mid-Kansas and make a report to the court, barring an extension. The appraisers will also hold a hearing for the landowners to make a case for the value of their properties.

Once a sum is determined, the court will order the payment to the landowners. Any landowner unsatisfied can appeal the decision.

Additionally, Hampton said Mid-Kansas’s attorney would be required to file a request for disbursement at the request of any unrepresented landowner. “It’s an un-statutory order, but I found it a necessity in a condemnation action,” the judge said.

Otherwise, some landowners have been unaware they needed to file a request for the funds that are paid to the district court from the condemning party, and the owners were not paid in a timely manner.