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Farmers on both sides of eminent domain debate

A number of pipeline and power line projects have been proposed in Midwest states in recent months, and there are farmers lined up on both sides of the issue.

The projects themselves are in various stages of advancing through the regulatory process.

In Iowa, the big-name projects are the Dakota Access, LLC, also known as the Bakken crude oil pipeline, and the proposed Rock Island Clean Line electric transmission line. In Missouri, officials are looking at the Grain Belt Express power line and the Mark Twain transmission line, also known as the Ameren line. In Illinois, they are also considering the Ameren and the Rock Island, as well as the Dakota Access.

In Iowa, the Iowa Utilities Board, a three-member commission, is charged with approval of new electrical transmission lines and pipelines. In Illinois, it is the Illinois Commerce Commission, and in Missouri, it is the Public Service Commission.

None of these projects is under construction yet. All have been proposed and are being considered by the state officials. All face some opposition from farmers and landowners.

“Our members have had two years of really good debates on this,” says Don Petersen, government affairs director for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.

Farmers are looking at issues such as the use of eminent domain related to these various projects, Petersen says. Some don’t want the pipelines or power transmission lines going through their farms. Others simply want to get a fair return or want to learn more about how the process might work.

The Iowa Farm Bureau has not come out for or against the various projects.

The same is not true in Missouri and Illinois.

The Missouri Farm Bureau opposes the Grain Belt Express project that is proposed to cross the state. While such a line might benefit other parts of the country by bringing wind power from the West to states in the East, Missouri farmers simply do not see the public benefit for them or their state, explains Leslie Holloway, director of regulatory affairs for the Missouri Farm Bureau Federation. The Missouri Farm Bureau has not taken a stand for or against the Mark Twain project in the eastern part of the state.

In Illinois, the Farm Bureau has expressed concern about several of the proposed projects, says Laura Harmon, senior counsel for the Illinois Farm Bureau.

There have been several moves to advance or block the projects made by regulators and opponents in the three states.

In Illinois, the commerce commission granted approval to the Rock Island project, but the company would have to meet a number of conditions. Those conditions will be difficult to meet, which means it may be coming back to the commission in an attempt to change those requirements. The Farm Bureau and a farmers group have also challenged the project in court, a move that could mean a long legal process, likely ending up in appellate court.

Meanwhile, the Dakota Access, also known as the Bakken project, is still in its early stages in Illinois.

In Iowa, there have been informational meetings regarding both the Dakota Access pipeline project and the Rock Island Clean Line project. Officials at the IUB say both projects are large and complex, and it might take some time for officials to review the information. Public comments are being accepted in both cases.

State Representatives Bobby Kauffman, R-Wilton, and Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, said recently they would propose legislation aimed at preventing the use of eminent domain in the Rock Island Clean Line case. And, on Feb. 13, the IUB denied a motion from Rock Island Clean Line to consider eminent domain separately from granting approval for construction of the line.

Opponents of the project say that is a major victory for them in the case.