Edgar County Citizens Are Entitled to Due Process achieved a significant legal victory in their fight against Ameren’s plan to cross their properties with a high-voltage transmission line.
Judge Craig DeArmond ruled the 35 members of the landowner group were denied due process because they did not receive adequate notice of the proceedings before the Illinois Commerce Commission. As a result of the ruling, DeArmond dismissed Ameren’s eminent domain lawsuits against the landowners seeking to compel them to grant right-of-way.
We wish them well as the matter moves into the appellate court where the justices will review DeArmond’s findings, but we disagree with the idea the county board should continue refusing to sign a road use agreement with Ameren as a show of support. These are two separate issues.
The landowners are fighting for a principle that a utility company cannot route a project over private property, gain ICC approval and notify them after the fact without giving them an opportunity to challenge the plan before it is authorized. A road use agreement positions the county well in advance of any construction to assure infrastructure is repaired by the utility if damaged by the massive construction equipment and super loads traveling over roads, bridges and culverts.
It protects all Edgar County taxpayers.
County board member Derrick Lorenzen tried to bring the road use agreement off the table for consideration at the Sept. 13 board meeting but his effort died for a lack of a second to his motion. The reluctance of board members to act is understandable given the high sense of right and wrong involved with what happened to Edgar County residents, but an important fact is getting overlooked.
No matter how many times the local landowners win in court at the circuit level, the appellate court, the Illinois Supreme Court or even if the matter goes to federal court, they are not changing the Illinois Rivers Transmission Line route through Edgar County. The courts are only looking at the issue of property rights and due process. The judges and justices lack the authority to vacate an ICC decision and cannot order Ameren to select another route and leave these particular 35 Edgar County landowners out of it.
Only the ICC can alter the route and attorney Craig Smith, who represents the landowners, told The Prairie Press even if his clients get the opportunity to appear before the ICC there is no guarantee that body will change the route.
There is also a chance the higher courts will disagree with DeArmond’s ruling.
For all of these reasons, the county should sign the road use agreement. The high voltage line is under construction across the state and once Ameren clears whatever the final legal hurdle is the contractors will roll into Edgar County – with or without a road use agreement. Waiting until all legal issues are settled in court before signing the agreement may be too late to assure the county’s protection.
There are laws making Ameren responsible for any damage but without a road use agreement in place establishing the pre-existing conditions, it can be become a protracted and expensive battle for taxpayers over how much damage was caused by the construction.
Lorenzen is correct when he calls the refusal to sign the road use agreement political theater from this point on because its existence, or lack of, is not an issue for the justices to consider. It will, however, be a big factor in getting the utility to pay for damaging everybody’s infrastructure. It is always better to be proactive than reactive.