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Second Round Of Open Houses For High Voltage Power Line

The debate over a proposed high voltage power line, which is expected to be built in Northeast Missouri, has heated up over the last two months. But opposition to the project has done little to slow the process of planning for the 345,000 volt transmission line.

Last week, on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, October 28-30, 2014, Ameren Transmission of Illinois (ATXI) representatives held their second round of open houses in Palmyra, Newark and Kirksville respectively. The purpose of the open houses was to give information about the project to members of the public and people living along the proposed routes and to gather information about the land being considered for the routes. ATXI officials have deemed it the final step in the “public process” portion of the project.

According to Leigh Morris, the public relations representative for the Mark Twain Transmission Project, 111 people attended the open house in Palmyra, approximately 150 attended in Newark and over 200 people attended in Kirksville.

The open house in Newark was held at the Ozark Steakhouse at the Heartland community complex.

Attendees were asked to sign in right after entering the building and were greeted by Ameren representatives. Various stations were set up throughout the restaurant area, which had been cleared for the event, and a path for attendees was meticulously constructed.

The open house route was shaped like a horseshoe. After entering, signing in, taking a pamphlet and being greeted by a representative attendees were faced with large banners touting the basics and benefits of the project on the left and large maps of the proposed routes on the right.

Rounding the curve there were more banners about the timeline of the project followed by a computer bank where people were asked to sit down and give information about their land if it was along one of the proposed routes. At each computer was an Environmental Engineer or a Map Specialist, representing ATXI, who logged all the information people were willing to give them into their computers.

Near the end of the route attendees were given questionnaires before leaving and tables were set up so they could sit down and fill the questionnaires out.

“I would say the majority of the people who came had open minds. They came in to learn. Many of them took their comment sheets home with them and said they wanted more time to think about it,” said Morris.

ATXI officials executed the open house quite thoroughly planning for everything right down to organizing security for the event, which came in the form of two Knox County Sheriff’s Deputies who were posted just inside the entrance and came in handy when a few members of the opposition group, Neighbors United, began handing out information outside the restaurant entrance.

“They said Ameren didn’t want us there,” said Neighbors United member Mike Patterson of Adiar County. “They asked us to leave.”

Members of Neighbors United, Beth Campbell and Bill DeFries of Adair County are shown handing out information to attendees after leaving ATXI’s Mark Twain Transmission Project Open House in Newark at the Heartland community complex on Wednesday, October 29, 2014.

Members of Neighbors United, Beth Campbell and Bill DeFries of Adair County are shown handing out information to attendees after leaving ATXI’s Mark Twain Transmission Project Open House in Newark at the Heartland community complex on Wednesday, October 29, 2014.

According to members of the group, after being asked not to stand around the front door of the open house and hand out information they moved a little ways away toward the parking lot entrance. Eventually they were asked by law enforcement to leave the Heartland property, but didn’t. Instead they set up several blocks away near the entrance to the community complex near the other Heartland restaurant continuing to hand out information, holding up signs and catching almost every single car that went in and came out of the area.

According to Morris, representatives of Neighbors United were at all of the open houses held last week, but didn’t cause any problems during the events.

“They were very respectful,” sand Morris about Neighbors United representatives.

There were approximately 30 people representing ATXI and the Mark Twain Transmission Project at the open houses. According to Morris those people were real estate experts, route planners, environmental scientists, construction planners and ATXI officials.

“This is the end of the open houses. We do not plan to do any more. The next step will be to determine what the routes will be. When we select the final routes all impacted landowners will be notified and the routes will be put on our web site,” said Morris. “That’s what they’ll start working on, on Monday. One of the promises we made is that we didn’t just hold these things just to hold them and they weren’t just for us to give people information. We held them to take the information too. We’re going to evaluate that information. I can’t tell you what the impact of that will be. I can tell you that information we have learned from people at the open houses have enabled us to make smarter decisions. That information we got during the first round of open houses played an important roll. I have no reason to believe it will be any different this time.”

Some of the concerns local citizens have about the project include possible negative health effects on people and animals living near high voltage power lines and the fear ATXI will acquire local land easements, to build the line on, through eminent domain.

Recently a judgment was issued in the Cole County Circuit Court case brought against the Missouri Public Service Commission by ATXI, which a handful of Adair County residents entered a motion to intervene in early last month.

“We do not believe the PSC (Missouri Public Service Commission) has jurisdiction over the Mark Twain Transmission Project because Ameren Transmission of Illinois (ATXI) is not a public utility as defined by Missouri state law,” said Morris.

If ATXI does not fall under the jurisdiction of the Missouri PSC, acquiring land easements through eminent domain would be possible.

In the recent judgment, issued on October 23, 2014, by Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel R. Green, Judge Green stated, “The motion for summary judgment filed by the Defendant Public Service Commission of the State of Missouri is Granted. The motion for summary judgment filed by the Plaintiff Ameren Transmission Company of Illinois is Denied.”

The judgment is a small win for people in opposition to the project and the Missouri PSC, though, it’s also guarantee that the battle over jurisdiction will drag on, possibly in our local districts.

Click here to read Judge Green’s judgment in it’s entirety concerning case number 12AC-CC00499 Ameren Transmission Company of Illinois vs. Public Service Commission of the State of Missouri.

Click here to see the court docket.

An exclusive question and answer interview with ATXI Director of Stakeholder Relations, Peggy Ladd, was printed in the October 22, 2014, edition of this newspaper and posted on our website. Look for a question and answer interview with members of the group opposing the project, Neighbors United, in next week’s edition of The Edina Sentinel.

This story was printed in the November 5, 2014, edition of The Edina Sentinel.