More than 200 at meeting opposing Ameren transmission line
TUSCOLA — More than 200 people, some of them Amish, turned out for a meeting aimed at keeping a high-voltage transmission line out of Douglas and Piatt counties.
In a survey of the audience, about 50 raised hands to indicate they lived within a mile of the proposed route and had not received a letter from the Illinois Commerce Commission notifying them of it.
"That's a serious concern," said Erik Hammerstrom, one of the organizers of the meeting Thursday at the Tuscola Community Building.
The Illinois Commerce Commission is expected to decide by Aug. 20 the fate of the proposed line, part of Ameren's Illinois Rivers Transmission Project.
Initially, Ameren favored primary and alternate routes that passed through Moultrie and Coles counties, connecting a proposed substation in Mount Zion with a substation in the Edgar County community of Kansas.
But in a surprise move this spring, Ameren threw its support behind a route suggested by Moultrie County property owners that runs through Piatt and Douglas counties instead.
That shocked Piatt and Douglas landowners who thought they would be nowhere near the proposed line.
Audience members were advised Thursday to:
— Post opposition to the route on the "public comment" section of the ICC website.
— Write the five commissioners in Springfield, specifying Case No. 12-0598 and expressing opposition to the Piatt-Douglas route.
— Contact the organizers of Defend Piatt and Douglas Counties (Russ Dukeman, Gary Appleby, Mary Burns and Hammerstrom) to offer help.
Burns outlined three potential outcomes of the case and what the group might do in response to those outcomes:
— If the commission agrees with its staff's recommendation that the Mount Zion substation not be approved and that the route going east through Piatt and Douglas counties not be approved, Ameren may still push for the route. "We need to remain vigilant if this occurs," Burns said.
— If the commission agrees with ICC administrative law judges that the Mount Zion substation not be approved but that the Piatt-Douglas route be approved, the Defend Piatt and Douglas group will likely challenge the decision in circuit court, claiming the route is not the most efficient, cost-effective one.
— If the commission disagrees with both its staff and the administrative law judges and approves both the Mount Zion substation and the Piatt-Douglas route, the Defend Piatt and Douglas group will likely challenge the decision in court, claiming landowners have been denied rights to due process.
"It would be wonderful on Aug. 20 to have closure on this project, but it's not likely," said Burns, whose land in Piatt County would be crossed by the high-voltage line.
Burns said the administrative law judges have recommended a proposed order to the commission that finds a need for the Mount Zion substation but leaves open where it should be located. Mount Zion wants the station built 2.5 miles south of where Ameren wants it.
But if a location further south is chosen, it would make the Piatt-Douglas route even more absurd, Burns said.
The line is supposed to run southeast to Kansas, but to avoid going through Moultrie County, Ameren's now-favored route diverts 4 miles to the north. If the Mount Zion substation moves farther south, the diversion becomes greater.
"It would result in a longer, more costly, off-course route," Burns said.
Hammerstrom said he didn't blame Moultrie County property owners for trying to find an alternate route.
"We hold no ill will against folks trying to get this out of their area," he said.
But the organizers are concerned that even today, Piatt and Douglas counties aren't mentioned as counties affected on the Ameren Illinois Rivers website or in letters sent out by the ICC.
They're also concerned that the route proposed by Moultrie County property owners considered only six "sensitivities," rather than the 32 sensitivities Ameren considered over several years in coming up with its two initial routes.
State Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, also spoke to the gathering, urging those concerned about the route to comment on the commission's website. He said he is lodging "disgust" with the commission "about the way the whole thing was handled."