Neighbors United cheers court ruling against transmission line

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Mar. 31, 2017 12:01 am Updated: Mar. 31, 2017 11:18 pm

PALMYRA, Mo. -- Members of Neighbors United Against Ameren's Powerline celebrated a victory this week after a Missouri appellate court ruled against a proposed high-voltage power line through five Northeast Missouri counties.

The ruling Tuesday overturned an April 2016 decision by the Missouri Public Service Commission, which had authorized Ameren Transmission Co. of Illinois to build a 100-mile Mark Twain Transmission line across Northeast Missouri -- but only if all five affected counties give their "assent."

Neighbors United appealed the commission's decision, and the appellate court ruled in the group's favor, saying the commission had no authority to grant a "certificate of convenience and necessity" contingent upon getting the required consents from the five counties.

The court said county authorization must be given before state regulatory approval can be issued.

The court vacated the commission's order.

Neighbors United attorney Arturo Hernandez III issued a statement Friday calling the appellate court ruling "a tremendous victory for our members" and for local government.

"For almost three years local citizens of these five counties have struggled to have their voices and concerns heard," Hernandez said.

"The courts vindicated what we have been saying since 2014 -- big business must cooperate with local government and individuals for the good of everyone."

Maureen Borkowski, chairman and president of Ameren Transmission, said in a statement that the company is "disappointed" with the Missouri Court of Appeals ruling because the Public Service Commission had determined the Mark Twain project would be in the best interest of Missouri citizens.

"Delays due to legal challenges only result in delaying millions of dollars in benefits that the project is expected to bring to Missouri residents," Borkowski said. "We are reviewing the ruling and will consider all options, including whether to seek rehearing in the Court of Appeals or to ask the Missouri Supreme Court to hear the case."

So far, Ameren Transmission has not received assent from any of the five counties through which the 345,000-volt Mark Twain Transmission line would run -- Marion, Knox, Shelby, Adair and Schuyler.

In October, the company filed suit against all five county commissions in a quest to force their assent to build the proposed line from Palmyra to the Iowa border.

Before filing of the lawsuits, each of the county commissions had 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 amounted to a "wrongful denial" of the company's rights and are asking local courts to compel the county commissions to give assent.

Clayton attorney D. Keith Henson is representing Marion, Knox and Schuyler counties in three of the five lawsuits, all of which are being heard by Jefferson City Judge Jon Beetem.

Henson told The Herald-Whig on Friday that the cases are awaiting action by the judge on pending motions. He declined to speculate on whether this week's Missouri Court of Appeals ruling will have any bearing on the lawsuits.

Marion County Presiding Commissioner Lyndon Bode declined to comment, referring all questions to Henson.