Power-line critics urge public to be at meeting

Gathering about plans to put line through Piatt, Douglas counties set today in Tuscola

TUSCOLA — With a public meeting scheduled here Thursday evening (Aug. 1) on a proposed Ameren high-voltage transmission line, an Arthur resident says he's concerned the proposed route will "destroy" a Native American living, hunting and burial site.

Mark Jones of Arthur said the route through Piatt and Douglas counties would cross a site south of Atwood that has yielded "thousands of Native American artifacts."

A 1986 field survey by the Illinois Archaeological Survey determined that some artifacts from the site dated back at least 1,000 years and as many as 10,000 years, he said.

Jones maintains if the power line is built there, "another Native American sacred, religious and sacrosanct site will be desecrated and destroyed for a project that is not needed."

Critics of the route — who have banded together under the name Defend Piatt and Douglas Counties — are urging residents to attend a meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Tuscola Community Building, 122 E. North Central Ave.

They hope to figure out ways to influence the Illinois Commerce Commission, which is expected to decide on the transmission project, including the route, by Aug. 20.

Ameren initially advocated taking the proposed Illinois Rivers Transmission line from Mount Zion to Kansas, Ill., through Moultrie and Coles counties.

But the company ended up endorsing a route through Piatt and Douglas counties after Moultrie County property owners rebelled.

That raised the hackles of Piatt and Douglas property owners, who contend that the new route will tarnish Amish properties in their area and will run too close to the Tuscola airport.

They also contend that Ameren didn't give area landowners sufficient notice of the route, given that Ameren's original routes didn't even go through those two counties.

Gary Appleby of rural Tuscola, one of the organizers of Defend Piatt and Douglas Counties, said he expects more than 200 people to attend today's meeting.

Appleby said Piatt County residents Russell Dukeman and Mary Burns will explain what has been done so far and what remains to be done. Erik Hammerstrom, who owns property in the Atwood area, will also speak.

Appleby said he expects the information to be presented within an hour, leaving plenty of time for questions and answers.

"A lot of people from Tuscola on east don't know much about it," he said, adding that Piatt County residents were among the first to learn of the new route.

Appleby conceded that the push to stop the transmission line will be an "uphill battle," given that an ICC administrative-law judge has already recommended to the commission that the Piatt-Douglas route is the "least-cost route."

"We need to get more people on board, more people to write to the commissioners," he said. "We want to stop the line altogether. ... We're not trying to shove it off on someone else."

According to information that Ameren Transmission filed with the commerce commission, the Piatt-Douglas route between Mount Zion and Kansas in Edgar County would be 69.2 miles long, a few miles longer than the two routes through Moultrie and Coles counties that Ameren originally supported.

But the construction cost for the Piatt-Douglas route would be $126.5 million, a few million less than the other routes, the company claimed.

As for the Native American site near Atwood, the Moultrie County property owners told the administrative-law judge that the site "has already been degraded by the collection of artifacts and continued farming operations by the owner."

Stephen Yoder, the ICC judge, stated in his proposed order that no archaeological sites "appear to impair the ability to construct any of the three lines."

He also said the Piatt-Douglas route is "marginally preferable in that it is roughly 2 miles further from the historical Amish areas near the proposed routes."

Yoder also said the Piatt-Douglas route "does not appear to be an impediment to the Tuscola Airport's continuing operation."

The Piatt-Douglas route would extend east and north from a proposed 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 the highway, 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.

The Moultrie-Coles routes would extend east from Mount Zion to the Lovington area, then continue south and east through Moultrie County to Coles County, where they would run several miles north of Mattoon and Charleston to Kansas.

Ameren's former "primary" route would have skirted Sullivan on its north side, while the former "alternate" route would have run a few miles farther to the north.

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