By Garrett Hawkins
The clock is ticking. Not only on this year’s legislative session, but for Missouri legislators to enact landowner protections before more electrical transmission projects start knocking on our state’s door.
Today, the energy sector is changing rapidly. A recent report on the future of electricity generation and transmission (MISO’s 2021 Transmission Expansion Plan) stated, “Indicators predict as much industry change in the next five years as have happened in the last 35 years.”
Missouri farmers and landowners in northern Missouri are seeing this firsthand. Now, additional transmission lines that have been rumored and predicted are on the verge of becoming reality. Utility providers have acknowledged plans to build several more energy transmission lines across Missouri, each using the power of eminent domain.
Missouri is in the crosshairs. For almost a decade, Missouri farmers and landowners have fought to protect private property rights against private, for-profit companies from using the power of eminent domain without providing a substantial benefit to Missourians. Simply put, some want to use our state as an energy superhighway to reach the lucrative east coast power grid and profit on the backs of farmers and landowners along the way.
Missouri Farm Bureau members believe deeply in the importance of property rights. With these new proposed projects, it’s time to ensure landowners are put in a fair negotiating position. All we are asking for is common-sense reforms to protect farmers and landowners.
Eminent domain should only be used for true public needs. We believe a project serves a clear public need if more than half of the transmitted electricity is delivered to Missourians. Prior projects successfully claimed to serve “public needs” by delivering only about six percent of their power to our state.
If a project does serve a public need, landowners should be treated fairly for the involuntary seizure of their property. They should receive additional compensation for their trouble and for losing land they did not want to sell in the first place.
In eminent domain proceedings, challenging unreasonably low offers is costly for the landowner, who owes attorney’s fees no matter the final value determination. Our members believe it is unfair to saddle landowners with an attorney’s bill just to challenge a lowball offer. Missouri should change the law so that the power company has to pay a landowner’s attorney’s fees if the landowner prevails in court.
In condemnation cases, land values are determined by three court-appointed experts investigating the property and calculating its fair value. Landowners deserve fair representation in these proceedings. In condemnation proceedings on agricultural land, at least one of the three experts should be a local farmer who has farmed in the county for 10 years or more.
We’re not asking for much here. Land is essential for food, fiber and fuel production. It is important for the rural way of life and the profession of farming.
Maybe some on the other side of this issue are hoping time will continue to slip away so they won’t have to deal with this issue. Not on our watch. We can have grid resiliency and affordable, reliable energy while respecting private property rights. Now is the time to enact fair laws for these incoming projects. Please contact your state legislators and ask them to support common sense eminent domain reform.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Garrett Hawkins is the President of Missouri Farm Bureau, the state's largest farm organization.