ATWOOD (MCT) — Howard Kamm planted 120 walnut trees on his land near Atwood 20 years ago, and he isn't about to let the route of a new power line zap them out of existence.
For a while, though, it looked like the trees were going to be history. State regulators in August signed off on a planned route for the proposed $1.4 billion, 330-mile Illinois Rivers power line that would slice right through the trees and within 125 feet of Kamm's home.
But Kamm and hundreds of other home and landowners in Douglas and Piatt counties fought back, and on Oct. 2, the Illinois Commerce Commission regulators agreed that administrative law judges must give them a rehearing.
At issue is where, exactly, the 345,000 volt power cables should go. Kamm and other protesters say the line, which will run from Palmyra, Mo., to Sugar Creek, Ind., never entered Douglas and Piatt under routes proposed and discussed at public meetings by its developers, Ameren Transmission Co. (ATX).
In their successful petition for rehearing, they argued the route ATX settled on was developed from alternatives proposed by a group of well-organized Moultrie County property owners who didn't want it in their backyard. As a result, Moultrie was bypassed in favor of sending miles of the route through Douglas and Piatt instead.
Filed objections from a coalition of the protesters, who have formed an organization called Defend Piatt and Douglas Counties, say the process was fundamentally unfair. They claim it's resulted in a route that's longer, more expensive and causes extensive disruption to families and businesses and even threatens an Indian burial ground.
"The thing about it is the people affected by this line had no public input, period," Kamm said. "And we've ended up with a route just west of my house where the line will make six 90 degree turns in two miles, and all this just to keep it out of Moultrie County."
A spokesman from ATX did not immediately return a call seeking comment Thursday. The ICC said the company will have its chance to argue the case in a hearing process before administrative law judges that must reach a conclusion by March 1. The ICC has granted several other petitions for re-hearings on the route of the line, and it has also denied some parts of the project, like an expanded electrical substation in Mount Zion, citing insufficient "evidence of need."
Given the size of the Illinois Rivers line, ICC spokesman Randy Nehrt said the amount of legal activity buzzing around the project isn't surprising. "It's such a long line, it spans the entire state, and so it does affect a lot of landowners," he added.
ATX said the line is needed to help handle future power needs and had hoped to begin construction as early as 2014.
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