Opponents of Grain Belt Express experienced a set of legal setbacks on Tuesday.
First, the Missouri Supreme Court refused to reconsider a July 17 decision overturning the Missouri Public Service Commission’s rejection of the Grain Belt project for Missouri, sending the case back to the commission to be reconsidered. Grain Belt wants to build electric lines to transmit solar-generated power from western Kansas across Missouri and three other states to reach East Coast utilities.
Meanwhile, judges of the Western District of the Missouri Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling in Callaway County that dismissed a lawsuit from the Missouri Landowners Alliance challenging the legality of a July 30, 2012, decision by the Monroe County Commission that gave the Grain Express permission to cross county rights-of-way. The Landowners Alliance had sued Grain Belt and the Monroe County Commissioners individually, alleging that commissioners violated the Missouri Law when they approved the applications, because the issue was not on the commission agenda when it was passed.
No one in the case disputes that the Monroe County Commission violated the Sunshine Law. The July 30 vote was taken, though the issue was not on its formal agenda, which by law had to be published at least 24 hours in advance.
County commissioners subsequently approved the minutes of that meeting and purchased a legal notice ad that ran in the Monroe County Appeal on Aug. 9. By the time the landowners noticed the violation more than a year later, it was too late for action, ruled the courts, as both the Callaway County court and appeals court said the landowners group filed its case after the statute of limitations had expired, meaning there was no legal remedy available to the landowners.
“Because the Sunshine Law violations were ascertainable as of August 9, 2012, Section 610.027.5 required Appellants to file their claims based upon those violations within one year from that date. Appellants filed their petition on July 28, 2014. Hence, the circuit court properly found that the statute of limitations barred 16 Appellants’ claims,” wrote the appeals court in its decision.
On July 17, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that the Public Service Commission erred when it refused to allow the construction of the project. The case was sent back to the commission “to determine whether Grain Belt’s proposed utility project is necessary or convenient for the public service.”
Grain Belt Express is proposing the construction of a 780-mile transmission line from wind farms in western Kansas to feed power grids on the East Coast. The company needs to build a direct-current transmission system across Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana.
Kansas and Indiana have approved the project, as have regulators in Illinois. However, courts in Illinois have blocked the approval, ordering the issue back to state utility regulators.
Opposition in Missouri has been fierce as landowners along the proposed route have organized and fought regulatory approvals needed by Grain Belt to bypass landowners.
Jennifer Gatrel, a spokeswoman for the landowners’ group, said though Tuesday’s ruling is a setback, her members believe they will ultimately be successful in their fight against the Grain Belt project.
“Of course, we are disappointed. … (but) we have a great legal team, and we have other legal resources to continue,” she said.
Michael Skelly, president of Clean Line Energy, said the company that wants to build Grain Belt Express called the appeals court action a “minor technical matter,” and said the company’s attentions are turned to the Public Service Commission, which now must reconsider the case.
“We look forward” to the new hearing, he said.
Monroe County Commissioner Ron Staggssaid he was dismayed with both decisions. The Republican made Grain Belt opposition one of his central campaign themes when he defeated four-term incumbent Glenn Turner in 2016.
“It’s a shame our courts cannot stand up for the individual. I just do not now what to say about it,” Staggs said. “It is disappointing, to say the least.”
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