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    Parson set to put new eminent domain law on the books


    June 10, 2022 - Kurt Erickson St. Louis Post-Dispatch

     

      JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Mike Parson is scheduled to sign legislation Saturday that gives a green light to a controversial wind-powered electrical transmission line running across northern Missouri.

      The proposed new law is the result of a compromise worked out among rural lawmakers that will allow the $2 billion Grain Belt Express to move forward, while putting up barriers to any future, similar projects that might come along.

      For years, rural lawmakers and farm groups worked to block the 4,000-megawatt project worth an estimated $2 billion.

      Under House Bill 2005, private companies such as the one building the line would face higher regulatory hurdles to use eminent domain to acquire easements to build on the properties of landowners who don't want to negotiate a price for their land. Companies also would have to pay a higher price for land they seek.

      Key to its passage in the House and Senate was language making it clear that the proposed law only affects future projects, not Grain Belt, which is being built by Chicago-based Invenergy Transmission.

      Despite not being able to stop Grain Belt, farm groups cheered the legislation.

      "Without this bill, we can expect landowner rights to continue to be trampled. The power grid has largely been built on the backs of farmers, whether they wanted to sell their land or not. It is long past time to bring fairness and common sense to the process," said Missouri Farm Bureau President Garrett Hawkins and Missouri Cattlemen's Association executive vice president Mike Deering in a joint statement.

      The high-voltage power line would carry wind energy from Kansas across Missouri and Illinois before hooking into a power grid in Indiana that serves eastern states.

      Supporters say the project will create of thousands of construction jobs, deliver millions of dollars in property taxes to local governments and provide clean energy and lower rates to dozens of Missouri cities. Plus, they said, Grain Belt in 2019 was granted the right of eminent domain by the Missouri Public Service Commission. And, court cases had upheld the decision.

      Through Thursday, Grain Belt Express has filed 22 eminent domain lawsuits in Missouri and Kansas. Four of those already have reached a voluntary settlement and four have received condemnation orders.

      Of the 1,700 parcels of property needed, Grain Belt has acquired about 1,250 of them.

      Grain Belt Express is paying landowners 110% of the market value of the land. Additionally, the company pays landowners $18,000 for every transmission structure sited on their property, which is not typical for Missouri transmission projects.

      As an added benefit, Invenergy says it will use the power lines to also offer broadband service that could bring improved internet service to more than one million rural Missourians, including 250,000 within 50 miles of the transmission line.

      A Grain Belt spokeswoman said Thursday the company may do even more.

      "While this law does not apply retroactively to Grain Belt Express, we are evaluating opportunities for the project to deliver significantly more power and benefits to the state of Missouri as leaders have called for," said Dia Kuykendall, director of public affairs for Grain Belt.

      Parson, who runs a cattle operation at his farm in Bolivar, is set to sign the measure at an event at the Missouri State Fairgrounds in Sedalia.

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