If the developers of the Rock Island Clean Line project want to use eminent domain to acquire property for their planned transmission line, they will have to do it in a single hearing.
Their second request for a separate eminent domain hearing was rejected Feb. 13 by the Iowa Utilities Board.
The first motion to separate the hearing to determine if the project is in the public interest and can use eminent domain in general from the hearing to examine the details of the exercise of eminent domain on a parcel-by-parcel basis was rejected in November 2013.
The board determined that separating the hearings would benefit the developers at the expense of the landowners, and it may limit the ability of some landowners to fully participate in the process. It considered the preservation of constitutional rights, clarity and the possibility of confusion, administrative efficiency and the convenience of the parties.
“The constitutional due process concerns alone are sufficient to justify denial of the motion. … Splitting the hearing would improve the convenience of a few parties while detrimentally affecting the convenience of many others, particularly the effected landowners,” the ruling said. “The board will deny the motion to consider eminent domain issues in a separate proceeding.”
In its filing, the Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance – an organization opposed to the project – argued that separating the hearings would give the developers too much leverage over landowners to acquire voluntary easements between the two hearings.
“This ruling was significant,” Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance attorney Justin LeVan said. “If the hearing was bifurcated and the board issued the franchises and determined the route following the first hearing, RICL’s negotiating leverage over the landowners would have been prejudicially powerful.”
In a press release, the developers say the 500-mile direct current transmission line is needed.
“Despite the procedural decision, the fundamental need for the project remains,” the release said. “There is strong demand for cost-competitive wind energy delivered from northwest Iowa to Illinois. Affordable clean energy is good for Iowa and America.”
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