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During pandemic, Grain Belt surveyors showed up

A Missouri farm organization is calling out an energy company for sending its representatives to meet with landowners during the COVID-19 crisis.

Missouri Farm Bureau received multiple reports that employees of Chicago-based Invenergy, the company behind the high-voltage Grain Belt Express power line, were holding in-person meetings with landowners last week at a time when Missourians were encouraged to practice social distancing.

A Farm Bureau news release from last Sunday, March 22, said that landowners were visited over the past week by agents seeking easements for the Grain Belt Express transmission line. Farm Bureau alleges that Invenergy was putting “profit before people” in discussing easement payments during a health crisis.

Invenergy said that it was never in the process of discussing easement payments last week but was holding previously scheduled property survey discussion meetings with landowners, said Invenergy spokewoman Beth Conley.

“Invenergy hasn’t presented a single easement package in Missouri in 2020. However, one of the most vital steps we are working on is survey work,” the company said. “Members of our team held meetings, upon approval from landowners, to discuss conducting wildlife surveys later this spring. These meetings were halted in Missouri when CDC guidance limited the ability to have in-person meetings.”

Farm Bureau stated that the last date for reported in-person meetings from Invenergy was Friday, March 19.

Wiley Hibbard, presiding commissioner of Ralls County, said he did not believe this practice by Invenergy was right and he had gone to the governor’s office to express concerns.

“One lady said a woman from Kansas City came in and sat down at her kitchen table,” Hibbard said. “And after she spoke with them, she says, ‘I’m going to the Amish community to talk with the landowners there.’ So, you know, it’s just unfathomable that they would do this as a national crisis.”

The Grain Belt Express, a direct-current transmission line designed to transport wind energy to eastern population centers, is proposed to be completed in 2023 and is scheduled to go through Northwest Missouri on its path from Kansas to Indiana. Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville, said he believes companies should take caution showing up at individuals’ homes during a pandemic.

“Any company right now should be exercising caution and should not be taking advantage of a situation where we’re in the midst of a pandemic,” Luetkemeyer said.

On Tuesday, March 24, Hibbard said he had got a call from Invenergy saying the company had suspended all scheduled in-person meetings.

Hibbard said in a statement that he was grateful for that.

”So much time was wasted by a lot people just to get this company to do the right thing. It is so very important to have a governor that champions the rural farm families of Missouri, thank you Gov. Parson, “ said Hibbard in a written statement.