Fargo-St. Cloud-Monticello – landowners speak out!

Filed under:Fargo-St Cloud,St.Cloud-Monticello — posted by admin on November 9, 2011 @ 2:14 pm

There has been a flood of public comments in response to, and because a comment period opened about, Xcel’s request for permit amendments.  The lion’s share of them are regarding the short stretch of E-5 and AS-1, from landowners near the Quarry substation.  Because that substation was selected in the St. Cloud-Monticello routing docket, that’s the terminus for the Fargo-St. Cloud line, which is why I didn’t think the Fargo-Monticello route should have been split up.

To check out the flurry of comments, go to www.puc.state.mn.us, click “Search eDockets” and search for docket 09-1056.

… and further south, problems brewing as landowners are faced with condemnation, or worse, shifting it just off their land so they get the impacts and no compensation.  From an article in the St. Cloud Times, it seems landowners were approached about easements, and then suddenly, the alignment shifted:

The Walshes say they would have taken the “Buy the Farm” option and others were considering it.

“We think they realized, ‘We’re going to have to compensate all seven of these people. Let’s get it out of here,’ ” Belinda Walsh said.

CapX spokesman Tim Carlsgaard said the utilities are trying to keep the transmission line as far away from houses as they can.

“Our goal was to stay off their property to have as least impact as possible,” he said. However, Carlsgaard said, “There hasn’t been any deliberate effort to say, ‘We’re going to keep it off your property so we don’t have to pay you.’ ”

Uh-huh… right…

Here’s the full article:

CapX 2020 power line worries neighbors who aren’t part of compensation deal


11:41 PM, Nov. 7, 2011

Written by Kirsti Marohn

ST. JOSEPH — When the CapX 2020 transmission line is built along Stearns County Road 2 south of St. Joseph, Scott and Belinda Walsh and their four children will get a front-row seat — but not much else.

The Walshes worry that the power line will loom across the skyline in front of the two-story, gray house where they have lived for six years, lower their home’s value and possibly affect the health of their children.

But because the power line won’t actually touch their land, the Walshes — along with their six neighbors — won’t get any financial compensation, the power to negotiate for damages or the option of having the utility companies buy their property. It’s put the residents in the unique position of wishing the power line would be built closer to their homes, rather than across the road.

“Legally we don’t have any rights with it just off our property,” Belinda Walsh said.

Routes

The high-voltage transmission line that will pass about 300 feet from the Walshes’ home is one of four lines the CapX utilities, including Xcel Energy, are building across Minnesota. Construction already is under way between Monticello and St. Cloud. The wires are supported by towers 140 to 170 feet high.

In June, the state Public Utilities Commission approved a route for the segment between Fargo and St. Cloud. It follows Interstate Highway 94 for most of the way between Fargo and Sauk Centre, but then veers south of the freeway near Freeport. A portion runs along Stearns County Road 2 between Cold Spring and St. Joseph, where the Walshes and six other houses line the west side of the road.

Xcel and the other utilities are negotiating with landowners for easements along the CapX route. In most cases, a 150-foot easement is needed within the 1,000-foot corridor approved by the PUC.

Under a 1973 state law known as “Buy the Farm,” homeowners and farmers can force a utility to purchase their entire property at fair market value rather than selling an easement.

The County Road 2 residents said they were visited last summer by a land acquisition agent, who told them an easement would be needed on their property.

But on Sept. 14, Tim Lisson, senior land rights agent for Xcel Energy, sent a letter to the seven property owners apologizing for the “miscommunication” that gave the landowners the impression an easement would be needed from them. The approved alignment does not place any portion of the transmission line’s right of way on their property, Lisson wrote.

The Walshes say they would have taken the “Buy the Farm” option and others were considering it.

“We think they realized, ‘We’re going to have to compensate all seven of these people. Let’s get it out of here,’ ” Belinda Walsh said.

CapX spokesman Tim Carlsgaard said the utilities are trying to keep the transmission line as far away from houses as they can.

“Our goal was to stay off their property to have as least impact as possible,” he said. However, Carlsgaard said, “There hasn’t been any deliberate effort to say, ‘We’re going to keep it off your property so we don’t have to pay you.’ ”

Rights to claims

Nicholas Delaney is an attorney with the St. Cloud law firm Rinke Noonan, which is representing some of the landowners along the CapX line. He said landowners like the Walshes have few legal options because their property is not being taken.

In contrast, landowners whose property the power line does touch have the right to invoke the “Buy the Farm” statute or — if they decide to stay — they are paid for the easement area being taken. They also have the ability to claim damages for the remainder of the property, Delaney said.

“That’s a luxury that doesn’t exist for someone who owns adjacent property next door,” he said.

Delaney said “there can be no doubt” that there are properties being affected by the visual impact of CapX that can’t make a claim for damages.

Xcel and the other CapX utilities have said they are willing to consider minor shifts to the line’s route. They submitted 12 proposed route amendments in cases where all affected landowners were in agreement and the new route wouldn’t cause any additional environmental damage. But in the County Road 2 case, no amendment has been filed.

The utilities have the flexibility to put the power line anywhere within the approved 1,000-foot corridor, said Dan Wolf, spokesman for the Public Utilities Commission.

Complaints

Landowners can file formal complaints, which the County Road 2 residents have done. The law gives the utilities 30 days to work with the landowners to resolve the complaints, then they are referred to the Department of Commerce for review. Eventually, the PUC will make a decision on the complaints, Wolf said.

The residents say it doesn’t make sense to move the power line farther into a farm field, when state law requires utilities to use existing corridors whenever possible.

In an Oct. 11 letter to Lisson, Mark and Betty Philippi, who own the field, wrote that moving the towers farther into their land will make even more of it untillable.

“I would ask that you keep the towers as close to County Road 2 as possible as to not impact any more of my land, considering what you’re already going to be disturbing,” the letter stated.

Neighbors Alan and Judy Nelson had planned to spend their retirement in the home and yard they’ve been fixing up for years. They owned property in Glenwood when a controversial power line was built across west-central Minnesota in the 1970s.

“We knew how the people felt when it went through,” Al Nelson said. “We never expected it to come here.”

The residents along County Road 2 are critical of Xcel’s handling of the process. They say they have been given conflicting information and don’t feel they can trust what utility representatives say.

“The whole process has just been a nightmare for us,” Scott Walsh said.

The residents have enlisted the support of state Rep. Larry Hosch, DFL-St. Joseph, and Sen. Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville. Hosch said he thinks their concerns are legitimate. It’s difficult to argue that by moving the power line a few feet off their land that it’s not going to affect them, he said.

“I think what’s happening to them is unfortunate and not right,” Hosch said. “I can’t see how it’s not going to impact their land.”

When spread over millions of Xcel ratepayers, the cost to reimburse the County Road 2 residents would be minimal, Hosch said.

Compared to the overall cost of the line from St. Cloud to Fargo — estimated at $255 million — the expense of compensating a handful of landowners is “nothing,” Scott Walsh said.

“We can’t get away from this power line,” he said. “It’s going to be here, and we just want to be treated fairly.”

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image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace