Landowners opposed to transmission line project

Posted December 18, 2013 at 10:18 am

By Kim Brooks, Express Editor

With about 60-70 people in attendance at the Rock Island Clean Line public meeting held last week on Dec. 11 at the Lawrence Center in Anamosa, a straw poll of the audience revealed very little support for the transmission line project, projected through southwest Jones County. These transmission lines would power wind energy from Iowa to the Chicago area and eventually the East Coast.

There were representatives present from Clean Line Energy Partners and the Iowa Utilities Board, as well as many Jones County landowners, most whom are opposed to the project.

The project would start in O’Brien County, Iowa, and cross 16 counties.

“We are dedicated to connecting the best renewable resources with the demand for renewable power,” said Beth Conley, a manager with Clean Line.

The company has hosted over a dozen meetings throughout Iowa to address landowners’ concerns and questions associated with the project.

“Iowa harnesses less than 1 percent of the wind potential,” Conley said. “Twenty-four percent of Iowa’s electricity is provided by wind. Iowa’s wind power is capable of more than 44 times the amount of electricity needed.”

Conley went on to say that there is a large market that could benefit from wind energy.

“We can distribute the power to Illinois and continue to grow over the next 10 years.”

Using direct current (DC) technology, which is the preference of Clean Line, they anticipate carrying 3,500 megawatts of newly developed wind power over a 500-mile stretch. Conley said the estimated $2 billion price tag is all private funding.

“We’ve identified a need and a proposed solution,” she said. “DC is more efficient, has a smaller footprint and requires less infrastructure (smaller towers and fewer cables) and improved reliability.”

With wind farms being developed in northwest Iowa, these lines will carry the power to a converter station in Gundy County, Ill.

As far as the economic benefit goes, Conley said they would look to make a $7 billion capital investment here in Iowa, meaning construction jobs and more. However, Clean Line will be bringing out-of-state contractors with them for portions of the project.

The main contractor on the job will be Kiewit Corporation out of Kansas City. Howard Lewczyk, with Kiewit, answered many questions last week from those present.

“We know it’s critical to work with the local communities,” said Lewczyk. He said they plan to work with local contractors for such jobs as crane work, concrete work, etc.

He said all affected landowners should have received a questionnaire concerning the layout of their land. This will be used to determine the best access routes on properties and any roads they can use to access fields.

Lewczyk laid out their plan of attack. Phase one will consist of clearing land for a staging area. They will drill and pour the foundation for the transmission line (an area approximately 100-by-100 feet. All of their materials and equipment will be moved on-site. Phase two: The DC pole will be laid out within the staging area. A crane will put the pole in place, lifting several pieces within the process. Phase three: They will use a helicopter to string the wires from the poles, spanning 2 to 3 miles apart. Phase four: The wires will be pulled tight from pole to pole to create tension. They will clear more land (100-by-300 feet) for more equipment to assist in pulling the wires. Phase five: Clean Line will return the land to its preconstruction condition.

As for how much the landowners should expect from Clean Line as far as compensation for their land, Julie Rasmussen with Contract Land Staff is working with Clean Line to acquire right of way for this project. Rasmussen said landowners should expect around $96,000. They can decide to take the money in a one-time lump sum or annually. The cost includes the easement and cost of placing the transmission structure on one’s property. They are offering Jones County landowners $9,570 per acre.

If there are any damages to the property (timber, crops, drainage tiles, etc.), Rasmussen said Clean Line would work with the affected parties to determine a fair compensation value.

Many landowners had questions from the company representatives. Someone asked why they can’t use railroad right-of-way versus private property to place these lines on. Conley said they had the option to use railroad ROW but they need to avoid cities/towns for these large structures.

Several people present represented “Block RICL,” a group opposed to the Rock Island Clean Line project. According to their website, “Where else would it be okay for a private company to use eminent domain to cut a swath through the middle of a privately owned factory, put up major obstructions in the production line, and think it’s okay to pay less than market value for the property in the easement only?”

Others from “The Prevention of Rural Iowa Alliance” handed out information encouraging people to oppose the project as well.

With the public meetings complete, Conley said they would now move forward to negotiate for voluntary easements.

“Our goal is to voluntarily acquire land for this project,” she said. “We’ll work with landowners to get there.”

If the Iowa Utilities Board grants Clean Line a franchise to move forward with this project (Iowa Code Chapter 478), Clean Line would have the right to eminent domain.

For more on Clean Line, visit www.rockislandcleanline.com. For more on the Iowa Utilities Board, visit www.state.ia.us/iub. For more on The Prevention of Rural Iowa Alliance, visit www.iowastopricl.com.

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