September 18, 2014

Lawmaker objects to use of eminent domain for high-voltage transmission line project

A retired utility engineer who is a member of the Iowa House of Representatives is raising concerns about a proposed high-voltage transmission line that is to be constructed across Iowa. Representative Ralph Watts, a Republican from Adel, objects to the use of the government’s “eminent domain” authority to seize property along the 500-mile route for the Rock Island Clean Line project.

“Rock Island Clean Lines is a non-utility, private enterprise embarking on a private project for private gain,” Watts said this week during a speech on the House Floor.”…Therefore, it would not serve a public purpose which is required as a justification for use of eminent domain.”

Developers of wind farms are not allowed to use eminent domain authority to seize ground for wind turbines, but state law does allow eminent domain authority to be used for power lines. A bill stalled in the House this year that would have set up a new appeal process for Iowa landowners affected by power line projects that stretch 200 or more miles.

The transmission lines for the Rock Island Clean Line project would be used to export energy from wind turbines in northwest Iowa to Chicago and other electricity customers to the east. Representative Watts said it would be “shamefully negligent” for the Iowa utility board to allow the firm to use eminent domain authority to seize some of the Iowa farm ground needed for its project.

“After all is said and done, if Rock Island Clean Lines is allowed the use of eminent domain for their project, it could likely result in the largest unjustified taking of private property in the history of the state of Iowa,” Watts said.

Governor Terry Branstad’s economic development director has called the transmission line “an important infrastructure project that needs to occur” because wind energy has the potential to be a growing Iowa export. Developers of the 500-mile Rock Island Clean Line project have charted a preferred route that would start in northwest Iowa’s O’Brien County and would exits on the east side of the state in Scott County, just north of the Quad Cities.