Landowners on Clean Line Route Eye Legislative Bill

By Dave Franzman, Reporter

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By Dave Franzman

LINN COUNTY, Iowa- A bill in the Iowa Legislature might make it easier for landowners to fight a cross-state wind power project. But Linn County landowners in the path of the Clean Line Energy Partners project aren’t sure how much legislative help they can expect.

The Rock Island Clean Line proposal would send wind power from far western Iowa to the outskirts of Chicago. That high power transmission line would run about 500 miles in length with lines and towers going up in 17 Iowa counties. The bill, HF2056, would somewhat limit the company’s ability to use eminent domain to force landowners to let the lines cross their property. But lawmakers did drop one part of the proposed bill that would have required 25 percent of the energy carried on the high voltage line to stay in Iowa.

Linn County farmer Curt Zingula said he wouldn’t have any trouble seeing the Clean Line towers if they go up about a mile from his farm house. They’d be at least twice the size of his tallest grain bin—about 160 feet in height. Zingula said company reps have come by offering payment for approximately four and a half acres of his land. But at this point, he’s not a willing seller and worries about future problems if he says “yes.”

“I look at the damage they’re going to cause to my land—an impediment to farming. Yeah, the dollars sound substantial. But you start dividing over generations and it’s a pittance,” Zingula said.

In informational meetings in recent months, the biggest objection voiced by landowners was the threat of eminent domain. Owners fear current Iowa rules would allow the Clean Line to force a sale and easement even if landowners weren’t willing to sell. But if five percent of landowners along the route object, the house bill would require the Clean Line to submit alternative routes for the project to the Iowa Utilities Board.

One farm family, with about 1,000 acres impacted by the proposed route, would have preferred the 25 percent requirement for power staying in Iowa be part of the legislation.

Brian Lensch said it’s short sighted to ignore the power needs in Iowa in favor of a better market out of state.

“Personally, I’m not in favor of it and not in favor of exporting our power out of state. Twenty years from now we could possibly be in a power deficit,” Lensch said

Lensch said if the project goes through he loses in two ways. Because his family rents the land in question, he would have to put up with the hassle of farming around the towers and dealing with compacted soil. And he wouldn’t get the benefits of any payments that would go to the landowner.

A spokesperson for the Clean Line said the company is continuing to seek voluntary easements and could work with some of what’s proposed in HF2056. However, the requirement, now removed, for keeping 25 percent of the electricity in Iowa would likely have killed the deal.

The House bill passed a subcommittee vote on Tuesday. But it must pass out of a full House committee by Friday or it will die in the legislative “funnel” process.

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