TUSCOLA — A high-voltage transmission line that once seemed likely to be built across southern Piatt County and northern Douglas County may take another path.
Administrative law judges for the Illinois Commerce Commission are recommending the commission approve a more southern route for that segment of Ameren Transmission's Illinois Rivers line.
The substitute route would pass through Moultrie and Coles counties instead.
The group Defend Piatt and Douglas Counties, made up of residents that objected to a route in their backyards, called the recommendation "fantastic news" in a recent email to its followers.
The commission is expected to vote on the proposed order from the administrative law judges on or before Feb. 20.
The Piatt-Douglas group has urged area residents to write letters to members of the Illinois Commerce Commission in support of the proposed order and to post similar comments on the commission's comment site.
In the proposed order issued Friday, the judges stated that the "PDM/CFT" route — the route through Moultrie and Coles, as proposed by a Piatt-Douglas-Moultrie coalition and the Channon Family Trust and modified by staff — was preferable to other routes.
It was the least-cost option, presented no difficulties in construction or maintenance and affected fewer property owners than the other options, the judges said.
"It also appears to better utilize existing corridors such as roads, section lines and property lines," the proposed order stated.
The 345,000-volt Illinois Rivers line would extend about 380 miles, with the main line running from Quincy to Terre Haute, Ind. A separate line that's part of the project would connect the Rising and Sidney substations in Champaign County.
The 92-page proposed order covered several aspects of the proposed line, including recommended expansion of the Rising and Sidney substations.
It also identified a preferred location for the Mount Zion substation in Macon County and addressed the line's route between that substation and one near the Edgar County community of Kansas.
The route chosen in the proposed order would run south and east from the Mount Zion substation, skirting the Moultrie County seat of Sullivan on its northeast side, and then run east across Coles County, cutting just south of Humboldt.
That route would be about 12 miles south of the route through Piatt and Douglas counties.
The previously recommended route ran northeast from the Mount Zion substation and passed just north of LaPlace and Hammond in Piatt County before skirting Atwood on its southwest side.
It then headed east across Douglas County, running just south of Tuscola. In eastern Douglas County, the route turned south, skirting Oakland on its east side, before connecting with the Kansas substation.
Defend Douglas and Piatt raised concerns about that route, including its proximity to the Amish community around Arthur, a Native American archaeological site and the Tuscola airport.
Ameren Transmission held several public hearings on proposed routes for the transmission line during 2012.
In the spring of 2013, the company abandoned the route it had proposed through Moultrie and Coles counties and abruptly endorsed a route through Piatt and Douglas counties. That route had been floated by Moultrie County property owners.
Distressed by that move, more than 200 residents of Piatt and Douglas counties turned out Aug. 1 in Tuscola to raise concerns about the new route. But later that month, the Illinois Commerce Commission approved the route.
Opponents asked that fall for a rehearing of the case. The rehearing resulted in Friday's proposed order from the administrative law judges.
— Comments can be made by going to the Illinois Commerce Commission's public comment site (http://www.icc.illinois.gov/docket/comment)and selecting "comment" under Case #12-0598.
— Letters to the Illinois Commerce Commission's five commissioners can be sent to: 527 E. Capitol Ave., Springfield, IL 62701, in reference to Case #12-0598.