Land rights battleground brewing in Northern Missouri

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MOBERLY- A battle-ground over land-rights is developing in eight north-central Missouri counties. 

Thursday night in Moberly saw more than 100 people turn out to a Missouri Public Service Commission public hearing. 

The issue? The Grain Belt Express.

Clean Line Energy, a Texas based company, is attempting to build the Grain Belt Express, a wind energy power-line, across the state. If approved, it would run from Kansas, through Missouri, to Indiana.

 "We want to make sure we minimize our impact on any farm or land use," Clean Line Energy Director of Development, Mark Lawlor, said. "We do that by studying the route carefully, working with land owners to select the route, and once selected doing anything we can to make any accommodations that we can."

In order to build the Grain Belt Express, Clean Line must become a recognized public utility by the Missouri PSC. If the company received the public utility status, it could by-pass creating easement agreements with landowners and use eminent domain, a thought which worries members of the oppositions group, Block Grain Belt Express.

"Our primary concern is that if the precedent is set that a private company can get eminent domain that it would really open Pandora's box for any other private company that would like to sieze Missouri land," said Jennifer Gatrel, a spokeswoman for Block Grain Belt Express.

The Public Service Commission heard testimony from resident of Randolph County, many of which opposed the project. 

"For the last 6 years, I have leased by timber-land for hunting and made very good money from it, and this will destroy much of it," said John Hobbs, a Huntsville resident.
"I don't want to wake up in the morning, look outside my door, and see big power lines."

While many who spoke had concerns over potential health risks to both agriculture,people, and land rights; others spoke in support of potential economic development. 

"At the end of the day we have no choice but to support this project," said Susan Carter, Presiding Commissioner of Randolph County. "We can't deny the tax revenue that we believe will come through our county, most of which will benefit our schools."

"I'm a century farmer, my family has been there since 1884," said Wayne Wilcox, a Moberly resident. "I'm a former county farm bureau president, but at this time I'm opposed to the Farm Bureau's position and I support this project."

The Public Service Commission will hold public hearings throughout the eight affected counties through November.