Iowa GOP lawmakers propose limits on eminent domain, Rock Island Clean Line

Lawmakers want developers to work with landowners, not rely on government force

James Q. Lynch
Published: January 10 2014 | 2:00 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 1:55 am in

Three eastern Iowa legislators say they will co-sponsor bills to strengthen Iowans’ private property rights by limiting the taking of private property through the use of eminent domain to “public use” purposes.

The target of their legislation is the Rock Island Clean Line, a $2 billion, 500-mile overhead direct current transmission line that would deliver electricity generated by wind turbines in northwest Iowa to deliver 3,500 megawatts of wind power from northwest Iowa to communities in Illinois and other states to the east that have little wind power potential but a strong demand for clean, reliable energy.

In proposing the legislation, Rep. Walt Rogers, R- Cedar Falls, called private property rights “critically important to our way of life.”

“Many farmers in my district live and work on land that has been in their family for generations, and they want to allow their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to continue to farm that land and feed the world,” Rogers said. “Our laws must adequately protect their property rights.”

Rogers, who also is seeking the Republican nomination in Iowa’s U.S. House 1st District, is co-sponsoring legislation with Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, and Rep. Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, to require any company seeking to use eminent domain to forcibly acquire land rights for a power line project to provide a significant portion of the power transmitted to customers in Iowa. That stem from the complaint that electricity transmitted on the Rock Island Clean Line would not benefit Iowans.

The second bill would clarify that developers of private projects – recreational lakes, for example – could not use eminent domain. They would have to purchase land through voluntary negotiations with landowners. Legislation to address that issue was unsuccessful last year.

Although the Rock Island project may look good on paper, Rogers finds it problematic.

“The most significant problem many farmers have with this project is that it runs a power line right through the middle of their property – sometimes right next to the front yard of their house – potentially without their consent,” Rogers said. “The project itself may have some merit, but the developers need to work with landowners to purchase easements voluntarily, rather than using government-backed force to simply take the land rights they want.”

The 2014 Iowa legislative session begins Jan. 13.

 

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