Douglas, Piatt residents don't want Ameren line reroute

Douglas, Piatt residents don't want Ameren line reroute

ATWOOD — Residents of Douglas and Piatt counties are up in arms over a proposal to reroute Ameren's proposed high-voltage transmission line through their counties.

Since late May, 100 comments from area residents have poured into the Illinois Commerce Commission's website, with most of them opposing the new route.

Ameren's Illinois Rivers Transmission Project calls for a 345,000-volt line extending from Missouri to Indiana, running through the central Illinois communities of Quincy, Meredosia, Pawnee, Pana, Mount Zion and Kansas.

In East Central Illinois, the original route advocated by Ameren passed largely through Macon, Moultrie, Coles and Clark counties.

But a group of Moultrie County property owners proposed an alternate route to the north that would largely bypass Moultrie County and instead pass through Douglas and Piatt counties. It was subsequently endorsed by Ameren.

Alarmed by that proposal, a group called Defend Piatt and Douglas Counties has formed to keep the line out of the area.

The group says the massive towers would ruin the "beautiful sight lines of Illinois Amish country" and be miles off the original course that Ameren deemed best.

The Piatt-Douglas group says the proposal by the Moultrie County property owners "is longer, impacts more cropland and includes more 90-degree turns than Ameren's alternate route."

The route "also runs right through the Amish community, a registered Native American archaeological site (south of Atwood) and right next to the Tuscola airport," the group states.

A meeting for all Douglas and Piatt county residents has been scheduled from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Aug. 1 at the Tuscola Community Building, 122 E. North Central Ave.

The Illinois Commerce Commission is scheduled to make the final decision related to the route Aug. 20.

The Defend Piatt and Douglas Counties group said those two counties were not included in Ameren's potential routes published last summer.

The new proposed route would extend east and north from the Mount Zion substation, traverse the southern edge of Piatt County on the north side of U.S. 36, then cross to the south side of U.S. 36, skirting the communities of Atwood, Tuscola and Camargo.

In eastern Douglas County, the line would make a sharp turn to the south, pass Oakland on the east side and continue south to the Kansas substation.

Erik Hammerstrom, who owns a farmstead south of Atwood with his wife, Bretta, said he has "Amish neighbors on all four sides." The proposed line would cross one neighbor's property and make "six 90-degree turns within a 21/2-mile span."

The Piatt-Douglas group contends that neither Piatt nor Douglas counties was listed as being affected by the proposed line on the commerce commission's website or on Ameren's Illinois Rivers website.

The group says the new route should be rejected "based on the presence of vague and even conflicting information, the lack of proper notification, the absence of any public meetings regarding the route — not to mention testimony from Ameren stating that the Ameren routes represent the only viable options for this project."

The Piatt-Douglas group contends the new proposal was developed in less than three weeks, was submitted after the commerce commission's deadline and was not in the original study area.

Ameren Transmission spokesman Leigh Morris said that although the Piatt-Douglas route wasn't in Ameren's original study area, "it doesn't have to be."

He said the company entered into a stipulation May 10 with the Moultrie County intervenors. That stipulation called their proposed route "a viable route that can be constructed" and supported it as the recommended route.

State Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, and state Rep. Adam Brown, R-Champaign, have both received numerous calls from constituents — "off the charts," in Rose's words — and both are opposing the Illinois Rivers Transmission Project altogether.

Rose and Brown both cite a report from an Illinois Commerce Commission staff engineer who said the eastern portion of the line isn't needed.

Rose contends Ameren Transmission is building the eastern portion only because the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission guarantees a 12.38 percent rate of return on such projects. He said there's no incentive for Ameren to address the project need in a cost-effective manner.

"It's wrong for the landowners, whether they live in Moultrie, Douglas or Piatt counties, and it's wrong for ratepayers," Rose said.

Ameren Transmission's Morris contends FERC, an ICC administrative law judge and the operator of the transmission grid in the Upper Midwest have all determined the entire route is necessary.

"The requirements for using renewable energy keep going up every year," Morris said. "Where's it going to come from? How are we going to get it here? If we don't build new transmission lines to get power from where it's made to where it's consumed, we're not going to meet those standards."

Rose said constituents with concerns about the transmission line should write the commerce commission to oppose it.

But he also urged them to ask their representatives in Congress to stop FERC from allowing guaranteed returns on such projects.

Brown called the transmission line project "a frustrating process from the get-go." He said many landowners learned their properties might be affected "late in the game."

"It didn't give folks too much time to prepare any organized effort of opposition," he said.

"It's a frustrating predicament for landowners," Brown said. "The last thing you want to see is neighbors pitted against neighbors."

The Illinois Rivers Transmission Project also includes an unconnected leg in Champaign County that runs from the Sidney substation to the Rising substation. Rose said he believes that segment of the Illinois Rivers project is needed because Champaign-Urbana's demand for power is growing so much.

On The Web:

Defend Piatt and Douglas Counties website:

http://defendpiattanddouglas.com.

Ameren's Illinois Rivers Transmission Project website:

http://www.ilriverstransmission.com/

Public comments on the case at the Illinois Commerce Commission website:

http://www.icc.illinois.gov/docket/PublicComments.aspx?no=12-0598

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