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Iowa House panel votes to tighten eminent domain laws  

Credit:  William Petroski | The Des Moines Register | March 25, 2015 | www.desmoinesregister.com ~~

An Iowa House panel approved two bills Wednesday to restrict the use of eminent domain for a planned wind-energy transmission line crossing 16 counties and for a proposed water reservoir in Clarke County in southern Iowa.

The House Government Oversight Committee sent House Study Bills 222 and 223 to the floor of the Republican-led House, where Chairman Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, said he is optimistic they will win approval. However, it’s not clear yet how much support both measures have in the Iowa Senate, which is controlled by Democrats.

Eminent domain allows a company to take private land for right of way over a property owner’s objections, after paying fair-market compensation.

House Study Bill 222, approved on a 5-4 vote, is targeted at the Rock Island Clean Line, which would cross about 375 miles through Iowa while carrying electricity generated from wind turbines into Illinois. Many landowners along the route have voiced opposition to the project, particularly objecting to the use of eminent domain to erect overhead transmission lines through their property. A request to build the project is pending with the Iowa Utilities Board.

The bill refers to so-called “merchant transmission lines,” which refer to an arrangement where a third party constructs and operates electric transmission lines through the franchise area of an unrelated utility. The proposal says the Iowa Utilities Board cannot make a finding that such a project can use eminent domain unless provisions are made to allow Iowans to place electricity on the transmission lines and take power off the lines, Kaufmann said.

While some Democrats objected to the bill as intervening in the Rock Island Clean Line’s case before the Iowa Utility Board, Kaufmann said the legislation is needed to avoid “the largest property seizure in the history of the state.”

House Study Bill 223 approved on a 9-0 vote, would allow eminent domain to be used for the Osceola-area reservoir, but only for the number of acres required to supply drinking water for area residents.

Kaufmann said other options could include piping the water to Clarke County from the Des Moines Water Works or improving an existing reservoir without using eminent domain. He said he is concerned that some local officials want to create a “monstrosity” of a reservoir that would unnecessarily require condemnation of long-held farmland for a recreational lake.

“I support eminent domain for water, I do not support abuse,” Kauffman said.

Source:  William Petroski | The Des Moines Register | March 25, 2015 | www.desmoinesregister.com

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