(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) A multi-billion dollar project has drawn a line of controversy through the state following the latest court ruling in the Grain Belt Express Clean Line.
On Tuesday, the Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District rejected claims that the Public Service Commission had made a mistake in giving the go-ahead back in March to the construction of the Grain Belt Express Transmission line.
The $2.3 billion project would provide a high voltage wind power transmission that would take energy from wind farms in Kansas to eastern states, including Indiana and Illinois. However, part of the design has the line going through parts of southern Buchanan County, Clinton County and Caldwell County, affecting 570 local farmers and homeowners.
"It's a highly controversial thing and so I know that there's going to be a lot of people that, obviously, if you own that land you want to protect the integrity of that land, but unfortunately this is - currently this is the way the court has ruled," Scott Burnham, Buchanan County commissioner, said.
The court ruling appeared to give the energy company the right to use eminent domain to purchase land from property owners even though it's a private, for-profit company. Something Missouri Representative Sheila Solon (R-District 9) said is an overreach of government.
"We have generational farms that are being affected, we have homeowners. This is the biggest investment that you make in your life - that is your home and your farm," Solon said. "To have high powered lines put through your property, that is reversed condemnation."
Earlier this year, a bill blocking the Grain Belt Express was widely passed through the Missouri House of Representatives but failed in a Senate filibuster.
"I hope the legislature steps up. I hope they do the right thing," Solon said. "They protect our citizens. This is one of our most basic rights as citizens."
Solon said she has filed another bill (HB-1422) that is aimed at limiting the overreach of state, city and county governments in regards to eminent domain. The bill has been filed in the house but is currently not scheduled for a hearing.
“Basically what the bill says is that attorney fees and costs need to be paid to property owners whenever condemnation or eminent domain is used," Solon said.
Burnham said he agreed that eminent domain was probably not the best way to move the project forward, but added that on the flip side the project will generate tax revenue and provide renewable energy for more states.
"Producing clean energy is better, obviously, that's better for the environment long term and I know that is something that as we move forward we're going to have to look for," Burnham said.
In 2008, Missouri voted to have 11 percent of the state's energy come from renewable sources - either produced or purchased. Burnham said currently the state is only at six percent.