KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A state appeals court ruled Tuesday that a group suing Grain Belt Express and the Monroe County Commission did not file its lawsuit alleging Sunshine Law violations in time.
The Missouri Landowners Alliance and Marilyn O’Bannon filed a lawsuit on July 28, 2014, to overturn permission the Monroe County Commission granted to Grain Belt Express for a high-voltage electric transmission line to go through the county. In the suit, the alliance alleges the commission violated the state’s open meetings law by not including discussion of the Grain Belt item on a meeting agenda and by not publishing the vote count in its meeting minutes.
Grain Belt’s lawyers did not dispute the facts of the Sunshine violation, but the court ruled the lawsuit was filed almost a year late. State statute and case law dictate a lawsuit over a Sunshine violation should be filed within a year of the violation being “ascertainable,” Judge Lisa White Hardwick wrote on behalf of the appeals court. That date was Aug. 9, 2012, Hardwick wrote, when minutes from the commission’s July 30, 2012 meeting were published in a local newspaper.
“The published minutes were sufficient to put a reasonable person on notice that one or more Sunshine Law violations may have occurred, and a reasonable person would have undertaken to ascertain the extent of those violation,” Hardwick wrote.
The ruling means Clean Line Energy Partners, the Texas company overseeing the Grain Belt project, retains permission to run the high-voltage line on and across the county’s public roads. However, the project still requires state regulatory approval to get off the ground.
The project has been at the center of a legal battle after the state Public Service Commission turned down the plan in 2017 because the company had not received permission from eight of the counties through which the line would travel. However, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled last month that the type of certificate Grain Belt sought did not require that kind of permission, putting the decision back before the Public Service Commission.
A date has not been set for the project to appear again before the commission.
The line would run from wind power fields in Kansas to Indiana, including 206 miles through Buchanan, Caldwell, Carroll, Chariton, Clinton, Monroe, Randolph and Ralls counties in Missouri.
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