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RICL: Halted due to opposition

The construction of Rock Island Clean Line’s proposed 3,500-megawatt high voltage, direct current electrical transmission line – running through 16 counties in Iowa – was halted this past year due primarily to opposition to the proposed project from landowners in Iowa and Illinois, the where the voltage line was to end up.

Members of the northwest Iowa-based Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance have fought the project since it was first proposed four years ago, citing the use of eminent domain as their main objection.

Last May, then-Gov. Terry Branstad signed a new law forbidding merchant high voltage transmission lines such as RICL from having condemnation power to take private property through eminent domain.

Carolyn Sheridan, PRIA spokesperson, said stopping the project was enough of a win for them, but the signing of the new law forbidding the use of eminent domain to take agricultural land for above-ground projects like this was more than they had hoped to accomplish. She said the group also helped establish a definition for a “merchant” line in the legislature.

“We made important legislative changes to protect the property rights of all agricultural landowners in the state of Iowa from this point forward,” said Sheridan.

The blockage of the proposed project appears to be completed for now, according to Sheridan, but the group has now chosen to remain on alert.

“Rock Island Clean Line could come back to Iowa and request to have a transmission line, but then they must start with resubmitting the petitions and resubmitting the whole route,” she said. “It would be highly unlikely that they would choose our route, but they could come back and do that.”

As it stands now, Sheridan said RICL has withdrawn their petitions to the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB), having missed the required deadline for submitting necessary paperwork to request the use of eminent domain, and leaving the project dead in the water.

She added the project has also been halted in Illinois, having made it as far as the Illinois Supreme Court before it was stopped.

“A unanimous 7-0 opinion handed down Sept. 21, 2017 from the Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the Third District Court of Appeals’ determination that Rock Island Clean Line is not a public utility,” a news release from the Illinois Landowners Alliance said. “On August 10, 2016, the Illinois Third District Court of Appeals also unanimously reversed the Order of the Illinois Commerce Commission that granted a certificate of public convenience and necessity to Rock Island Clean Line, and remanded the cause to the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) with directions to enter an order consistent with its decision.”

The release went on to say that William Shay, lead attorney for the appellant ILA said, “In a carefully-reasoned and well-written opinion, the Illinois Supreme Court agreed with the Illinois Landowners Alliance, the Farm Bureau, and ComEd that Rock Island does not meet the definition of ‘public utility’ under our state’s Public Utilities Act, and therefore does not qualify for a certificate to construct the project as a public utility project and conduct business as a public utility in Illinois.”

“The Court noted that nothing stops Rock Island from seeking to develop its project as a private facility, but it will not have public utility status, including the right to condemn landowner easements through eminent domain,” Shay added.

In order for a project like this to be stopped, Sheridan said it needed to be halted in both Iowa and Illinois.

She said it appears that has happened.

Officials at RICL did not return phone calls seeking comment.

The battle to stop the proposed RICL project has cost PRIA $225,000, which Sheridan said came completely from donations from people across the state who backed their mission. Most of that was spent on lawyers, lobbyists and fees, as well as communication and travel expenses.

Sheridan said this action proves that a group of people with a common cause can be successful.

“It was fun to see a model work,” she said. “For well over two years a group of 10 people – which is our board of directors – met every week. This took the work of a lot of people.”

“You had to have skin in the game, and we all did,” she added. “This affected all of us.”

Although the project has apparently been stopped, Sheridan said PRIA intends to remain a viable, working group that now acts as a watchdog for what could come in the future.