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By Staff | Nov 18, 2016

The Iowa Soybean Association released its stance on eminent domain saying, “We believe government should concentrate more on the management of currently owned government land and reduce the effort to acquire more public land.

“We oppose the use of eminent domain to acquire private land for economic, conservation, landfill, road building utilities or recreational interests without just compensation. We support the upgrading of our nation’s energy infrastructure grid. However, we are concerned that farmers are not fairly compensated for residual impacts on crop land production and value as well as restrictions on land improvements.

“We support efforts to protect farmers’ property rights within the easement and land acquisition process as well as efforts to hold companies securing those easements and building infrastructure accountable for ongoing environmental and private property damage. We do oppose the use of eminent domain – but recognize that it may occur when projects (such as energy projects) are determined to be for the public good. That is why we emphasize just compensation and holding companies accountable for ongoing environmental and private property damage. That usually means that farmers need to negotiate the best deal they can.”

There are some things in it that require some interpretation and further explanation, but overall I thought that it was a good statement. “We do oppose the use of eminent domain … but” is pretty much where I am at. The crux is that private companies think that they can use the threat of eminent domain to push landowners into unfair agreements. They also think that farmland values are all that they should have to pay “for just compensation” when the commercial value of what they intend to use the land or right away for is far higher.

Farmers deserve the higher value. Less is not just.

There was a fiber optics company that laid cable from Chicago to New Jersey that needed the most direct route and paid what they had to for the easements. Farmland value was irrelevant to the value of the easements. When they build a new hotel on the edge of town on land that was farmed they pay a commercial value for it. Private for-profit utility and pipeline companies want to pay the lower agricultural value for the land or force it from the landowner through use of eminent domain that was created for public use and not intended for private deals.

I recommended a threshold of 90 percent voluntary easements on private projects before the utilities board could authorize eminent domain.

A bill passed by the Iowa House approved 75 percent. That threshold was stripped in the Iowa Senate by jerks working for the power and pipeline companies. As to the “but” in ISA’s statement opposing eminent domain … when the threshold is reached and the company has complied with the requirements then they can build without further impediment. You can’t change the rules on them post approval as long as they adhere to the rules.

When driving to Sioux Falls recently I noted that large number of wind turbines along the interstate and they have plans for many more. While Rock Island Clean Lines dropped its initial plans for a power-line to transfer this power east to consumers, the delay will be temporary. They are going to have to move this power from where it is generated to the grid.

I expect that RICL or a new entity will return with a modified plan. I would think that for these cross-country power transfers they should use some portion of current highway easements. It would seem to make common sense for the power line to run I-90 or another major highway. I believe that they will return with a new plan which will be unlikely to include paying us what the easements are worth.

RICL withdrew its proposed project when it could not wrest eminent domain from the Iowa Utilities Board. RICL low-balled what they would pay for the value of the private easements and only secured 15 percent of what it needed before it failed to get eminent domain power and withdrew. They think that eminent domain means that they should only have to pay farmland value when the easement’s commercial value is worth three times that. They do not want to set that precedent of paying higher commercial values for power line easements.

Instead they want to extenuate the myth that these easements should be surrendered at ag valuations. These companies have law-making friends in Des Moines, specifically the Iowa Senate who stood with them against the interests of Iowa landowners in blocking new precedents requiring them to obtain the majority of easements through private negotiation.

When I was near Huxley, recently being shown the Dakota Access pipeline, they had just been deluged by inches and inches of rain and it was a mud hole. I was surprised to see the pipeline crews still working in such conditions.

Yes, they were making a huge mess mudding the pipeline in, but I would think that quality control and everything else was short of standards when working in such poor conditions.

Landowners were justifiably concerned over the condition this will leave fields in and noted that in the easement there is a clause that “construction will not commence in wet conditions.” It could not be wetter than what I saw them working in. That means that the penalty in the easement agreement was not strong enough to force compliance.

My statement goes a bit further than the ISA statement on eminent domain, but when ISA thinks about it, I think that it will decide I am right and that is what it really meant.

David Kruse is president of CommStock Investments Inc., author and producer of The CommStock Report, an ag commentary and market analysis available daily by radio and by subscription on DTN/FarmDayta and the Internet.

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