CAMBRIDGE -- A group of Henry County farmers are unhappy with a power line easement agreement the county board has signed with Rock Island Clean Line Energy.
In August, the board approved a 20-year easement with four investors for electric lines that may include some 20 miles through Yorktown Township in the north edge of Henry County.
On Tuesday, farmers from the area expressed dismay the company could be reclassified as a public utility and use eminent domain to obtain easements through their land. They also shared fears of interference with farm irrigation equipment.
Jim Ufkin, who lives north of Hooppole, asked the board to provide affected farmers with a 30-day response time in any future pacts with Clean Line. Board chairman Tim Wells, R-Geneseo, later said only one person had asked about field irrigators during public meetings on the project the past two years in both Rock Island and Henry counties.
Philip Arnold, who lives northeast of Hooppole, noted East Coast governors have opposed the project for more than three years.
"Now, locally, we have here in Henry County a great resource -- privately owned farmland -- that could come under the shadow of eminent domain," he said.
Rock Katschnig, who lives west of Hooppole, advised county board members not to plan on spending any revenue from the easement pact.
"This could turn into a very complicated matter," he said.
Former state Sen. Todd Sieben, a representative of Clean Line, said that, as a landowner, he is sensitive to the use of eminent domain. But he noted more power is going to be needed from the Plain States to benefit everybody. He thanked the county board for the agreement, noted that -- unlike Iowa -- Illinois has no overall agreement with firms such as Clean Line.
Clean Line is close to filing its application with the Illinois Commerce Commission, he said, but at this stage, it won't include an application for eminent domain. If Henry County later is selected as a route, and Clean Line is granted public utility status, it then would use eminent domain on a case-by-case basis, parcel by parcel, Mr. Sieben said.
He suggested a "positive dialogue" continue between all parties when Clean Line files its application.
County administrator Colleen Gillaspie said the August agreement requires Henry County to cooperate with the developer on a good-faith basis and support the project. Henry County State's Attorney Terry Patton said that filing if eminent domain is sought by Clean Energy, filing an objection with the ICC would violate the board's August agreement.
Board member Karen Urick, R-Geneseo, said the real fear is that a private company could obtain public utility status and use it to acquire property through eminent domain. Without the August agreement, she said, Henry County would not have received $7,000 per linear mile for the easement. If the project comes through the county, she said, road agreements would still need to be negotiated.
Also on Tuesday, the board:
-- Learned the E-911 board is spending the $30,000 to ground the sheriff's department radio tower in the hopes of correcting law enforcement communications issues in Hooppole, Colona and Kewanee.
-- Learned the 50 wind turbines in Mid American Energy's Henry County project are all up but not yet operating.
-- Shared appreciation for the work by retiring board members Muriel Weber, R-Geneseo; Pat Ripperger, D-Alpha; and Tom Steele, D-Geneseo.