ATXI files suit against five county commissions in Northeast Missouri

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Nov. 3, 2016 5:45 pm

PALMYRA, Mo. -- The Ameren Transmission Co. of Illinois has filed suit against five Northeast Missouri county commissions in a quest to force their assent to build a 100-mile transmission line from Palmyra to the Iowa border.

Petitions seeking judicial reviews were filed last month against the commissions in Marion, Knox, Shelby, Adair and Schuyler counties.

Court hearings are pending.

The lawsuits relate to an April ruling of the Missouri Public Service Commission, which authorized ATXI to build its proposed 345,000-volt Mark Twain Transmission Line through Northeast Missouri -- but only if all five county commissions give assent.

Each of the commissions, however, has either denied or tabled action on the company's request for authority to erect and maintain transmission lines across public roads.

The lawsuits allege this amounts to a "wrongful denial" of the company's rights and are asking local courts to compel the county commissions to give assent.

Maureen Borkowski, chairman and president of ATXI, said the legal action was taken "to ensure we can bring this beneficial project" to Missouri in a timely manner. An in-service date of November 2018 "remains our goal," she said.

"We were disappointed that the commissions in Adair, Marion, Knox, Schuyler and Shelby counties denied or tabled our recent requests related to the Mark Twain Transmission Project, which the Missouri Public Service Commission has determined is in the best interest of the citizens of Missouri," Borkowski said in a written statement.

"The question before the five county commissions was not whether this project is needed -- the PSC settled this question," she wrote. "The question was whether we designed the line in a way that allows for the continued safe use of the roads in the five counties. The information we provided to the counties confirmed that it does, and we believe the courts will agree."

After a hearing Sept. 19 in Palmyra, the Marion County Commission voted 2-0 to deny ATXI's request to let the company hang transmission wires over the county's roads for the Mark Twain project. The decision was greeted with a standing ovation by a crowd of opponents -- many of whom carried protest signs outside the courthouse before the meeting.

The Marion County Commission had passed a resolution in November 2014 opposing the project on grounds that it "negatively impacts citizens of Marion County."

In its Marion County lawsuit, ATXI claims the commission's denial of assent "was unlawful, arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable and an abuse of discretion."

The suit says Missouri law gives counties the authority to grant assents "where a utility does not unreasonably interfere with the use of county roads, highways and rights-of-way."

In this particular case, the suit says, the Marion County Commission "acknowledged it had no concerns about ATXI's proposed use of Marion County roads or rights-of-way." However, the commission nonetheless denied the company's request for assent even though the project "would not interfere with or obstruct the public's use and enjoyment of Marion County roads and highways," the suits says.

Carl Lumley of Clayton, an attorney hired this week to represent the Marion County Commission in the lawsuit, said it's too early to tell how long it might take for the lawsuit to work its way through the court system.

"There could be opportunities for the court to resolve it quickly, but that doesn't happen very often," he said. "I'm reasonably confident that Ameren is going to try to keep it moving, and certainly the county doesn't have any desire to drag it out."

Lumley also noted that the PSC's ruling in April is being appealed by a group of Northeast Missouri landowners who oppose the project.

"So the whole thing is kind of up in the air," he said.