Northern States Power, d/b/a Xcel Energy and ITC Midwest LLC (collectively “the power companies”) are constructing power line projects which are being completed in phases across counties in Minnesota including: Blue Earth, Faribault, Nicollet and Martin. The routes for the projects are identified at www.huntleywilmarth.com. Please see the link for the Project Maps for more information on the proposed route locations.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (“PUC”) is the state agency that oversees projects such as the Huntley-Wilmarth 345 Kilovolt Transmission Line Project. For information regarding the status of this project with the PUC, please visit the State of Minnesota’s website at www.puc.state.mn.us (in search box enter 17 for the year and the number 184, then click the search button).
After the Minnesota PUC approves the project, the power companies will have the authority to condemn private property. This authority allows the power companies to acquire whatever property rights are necessary from private landowners for the project. While the power companies can forcibly acquire these property interests, the Minnesota Constitution, as well as the U.S. Constitution, requires just compensation to be paid to the property owners. If you are approached by a representative of the Huntley-Wilmarth 345 Kilovolt Transmission Line Project, it is important you fully understand the property rights being acquired from you because it will impact the amount of compensation you are entitled to.
The Huntley-Wilmarth 345 Kilovolt Transmission Line Projects consist of up to 345 kV lines and substations. Depending on the amount of kV, the poles can be large steel structures 120 to 170 feet in height, depending on the contours of the ground. The power lines will create electric magnetic fields (“EMF”). Questions remain about the effects of EMF on human health as well as the health of livestock and other animals. Studies show that power lines have a negative impact on property values.
If you have not already been contacted by a representative from the Huntley-Wilmarth Project, and your property is located in one of their routes, the Huntley-Wilmarth Project will attempt to negotiate an easement for the project. It is these land agents sole job is to get you to sign an easement or right-of-way grant. While to some people the price being offered for the easement rights may seem reasonable, we encourage everyone to meet with an attorney before signing any easement form to make sure that you are fully aware of the implications and legal effects. An easement or right-of-way grant is a permanent waiver of your legal rights. It will burden your land forever.
Rinke Noonan has been on the front lines fighting for the rights of property owners for over 50 years. From 2009 through 2017 Rinke Noonan lawyers represented landowners of approximately 100 different parcels of land impacted by the CapX2020 Project, which was very similar to the anticipated Huntley-Wilmarth Project. Both are 345 Kv high-voltage transmission lines. The CapX2020 Project took the position that when a property owner exercises their right to elect the Buy the Farm option they are were not entitled to all of the rights and protections normally afforded to property owners in a condemnation setting. Below you will find the legal memorandum we submitted on behalf of one of our Buy the Farm clients.
- Respondents Memorandum
- Petitioners’ Memorandum
- Wright County Order
- Order on Minimum Compensation and Relocation Benefits under Chapter 117
- Rinke Noonan fought for property owners all the up to the Minnesota Supreme Court and prevailed. The decision state that property owners who qualify for “Buy the Farm” are entitled to relocation benefits.
We have challenged the power companies blanket easements and have been successful in getting them to agree to define their easements. While easements vary in their restrictions, one might reasonably expect the easements associated with the Huntley-Wilmarth Transmission Line Project to include building restrictions within the easement area, tree restrictions, and a variety of other uses. Removal of trees can have significant impacts, such as the loss of a shelter belt, loss of privacy, loss of a noise buffer, increased safety concerns, etc. Easements also routinely allow indefinite and continual access to your property by the power company. In some cases, we have experienced utility companies seeking a blanket easement over the entirety of the landowner’s property for purposes of access. See the Quick Take Motion
WHAT TO EXPECT IN CONDEMNATION
The word “condemnation” may sound threatening, but don’t let it scare you. A land acquisition agent on behalf of the utility company in furtherance of the Huntley-Wilmarth Project may inform you that if you do not agree to sign the easement, the power companies will just simply condemn your property. It is important you understand that while condemnation law does allow a condemning authority to obtain your property or certain rights to it, the process is in place to protect you, the landowner, from abuse by the condemning authority. To begin the condemnation process, the Huntley-Wilmarth power companies will need to file a petition in each county where the power companies require easements and fulfill very specific notice requirements. Having an attorney review the notice and the rights being taken is a critical first step.
After a condemnation petition is filed, the Judge will at some time thereafter appoint three neutral people to act as Condemnation Commissioners. These individuals should have a good understanding of the value of real estate in the county. Often commissioners are real estate agents, attorneys, developers or appraisers. The individuals appointed as Commissioners are important and the appointment of Commissioners requires the close attention of an attorney working on your behalf. Ultimately, these Commissioners will decide what is fair compensation for the property rights being taken from you. As part of the process, the Commissioners will view your property. You and your attorney, as well as representatives associated with the Huntley-Wilmarth Project have the right to be present during any viewing. This is a useful opportunity to present the Commissioners with the unique concerns relative to your property. A hearing is then scheduled at which time both the power companies and the landowner will have the opportunity to present evidence to the Commissioners concerning the value of the property rights being acquired. After the hearing is completed, the Commissioners will get together privately and make a decision as to the amount of compensation to be awarded to the landowner. The commissioners will decide not only the value of the property rights taken, but also the impact to your remaining property, if any. These damages to the remainder are referred to as severance damages. If either the power companies or the landowner feel the decision is wrong, either has the right to appeal to the Court and have a jury hear the evidence and make an award.
The power companies will likely do a “quick-take.” In short, the quick-take procedure allows the power companies to take possession of the property prior to the Commissioner’s hearing. It is anticipated that a “quick-take” is likely with respect to the Huntley-Wilmarth Project. Before acquiring property rights, under the quick-take procedure, the power companies will be required to pay to the landowner an amount equal to the Huntley-Wilmarth Project’s appraised value of the property rights taken. This amount is not binding on the property owner and a Commissioner’s hearing will still be held to determine the final amount.
BUY THE FARM
In residential and farm situations, property owners have a right to force the Huntley-Wilmarth Project power companies to acquire the entire property rather than only the easement. For more information on this topic, please see our “Buy the Farm” information. As stated previously, property owners who qualify for “Buy the Farm” are entitled to relocation benefits. Please see the MnDOT Relocation Assistance Pamphlet which outlines the property owner’s rights and benefits.
Negotiating with huge companies can be very complicated and the power companies have many land agents and attorneys working on their behalf. The Huntley-Wilmarth Project will likely be no exception. The lawyer you choose can make a difference in the impact of the project to your property, and the amount of compensation you ultimately receive. We are able to take many cases on contingency, which presents little financial risk to you. If your property is impacted by the project, the Huntley-Wilmarth Project representatives will make you an offer for the property rights they seek to acquire. We have represented landowners on a contingency basis in which we are compensated a percentage of any amount we recover for the landowner above and beyond the offer of the power companies. Our law firm has been involved in many large-scale condemnation projects. We have represented hundreds of property owners in seeking just compensation for their individual parcel(s). In addition, our office regularly represents local governments in the acquisition of property for public projects, so we understand both sides of the process. We understand that each individual parcel is unique and each landowner has unique concerns related to their property and the condemnation process. We urge you not to sign any documents presented to you by any of the power companies representatives. As a landowner, there is no down side in forcing the representatives of the Huntley-Wilmarth Project to initiate the condemnation proceedings. It is important you fully understand the implications of any easement or the property rights acquired by the power companies and the ways in which you can maximize the compensation to which you are entitled.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding the condemnation process or the Huntley-Wilmarth 345 Kilovolt Transmission Line Project specifically, please do not hesitate to contact attorneys Nicholas Delaney, Adam Ripple, or Igor Lenzner at 320-251-6700. If they are unavailable, you may also contact our experienced paralegal, Angie Bengtson.