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Concerns over CapX powerline shift to land values

The battle between landowners and the CapX2020 powerline project is now less about the route and more about the value of the properties affected.

In June, the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed routing decisions made by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission in the CapX2020 project, allowing construction of the power line to continue as planned.

Harry Frankman, an attorney for about 10 affected landowners, said his clients have rejected purchase price offers from Northern State Power Co. officials -- doing business as Xcel Energy -- in turn, NSP has filed petitions of condemnation of the land on which the transmission lines will be built.

The court ruled June 10 against Oronoco Township and some Cannon Falls landowners whose properties will be affected by the power lines. Oronoco had sought to shift the transmission line north from White Bridge Road to the Zumbro Dam, while the Cannon Falls group had hoped to shift lines farther west — away from a nearby church and school — over the Byllesby Dam.

"There was a camp that was up in arms for good reason," Frankman said of the proposed route. "Now that NSP can build the power line, they've filed a petition for eminent domain in Oronoco."


It's actually two petitions, one to be heard Oct. 10; the other on Oct. 22.

Three commissioners — typically real estate agents or land appraisers unrelated to any of the parties — will be appointed by the court. Similar to a mini-jury, they'll have the task of determining the value of the easements taken, Frankman said.

"The law in Minnesota asks (the commissioners to decide) what a potential buyer would pay for the property without the power line, versus what a buyer would pay with the power line," Frankman explained. "Of course, our view is, there's going to be some damage to the (value) of the remaining property. The power company doesn't."

The differences, he said, "will be fleshed out later. That's what the commissioners will be called on to determine."

While he doesn't anticipate any kind of settlement before next spring, as of Nov. 1, CapX officials have the right to begin construction through a "quick-take" process after filing their appraisal offer with the court.

"When they do that, and have permission from the court, they'll have the right to build their power line," Frankman said. "It gives them title and position, but the lawsuit about the value of the land is still active.

"The power companies have given appraisals to the various landowners," he said. "We have a wide difference" of what the values should be. Both sides will present witnesses to attest to land value.

His clients — among them Rochester businessman Javon Bea — feel project officials have "low-balled" them, Frankman said.


"Javon's not happy; he feels they're taking his land for nothing," Frankman said.

Still, "no one likes to fight city hall," he said. "They're a little intimidated."

Bea, chief executive officer of Mercy Health System in Janesville, Wis., is board chairman for the private investment partnership that owns the Kahler Hotel properties.

There's no need to feel intimidated, said Tim Carlsgaard, spokesman for the CapX2020 project.

"It's actually a very fair process in Minnesota," he said. "Once we file condemnation, we keep negotiating. We don't just stop; we're hoping that we don't have to spend a lot of extra time and money going through that (legal) process. Hopefully, we can come to some kind of agreement."

The commissioners, he said, "can split the difference, side with either one; they can do whatever they want. If either side disagrees with that, they can appeal to the district court and go through that whole process."

The condemnation process throughout the transmission line project, Carlsgaard said, "has actually been working very well for landowners, they've been getting very good results."

Still, he admitted, "there have probably been more condemnation filings than normal, because we have a pretty aggressive winter work construction schedule to stick to."


The next stage will be construction from Hampton to Pine Island, along U.S. 52.

"We've notified the landowners and opened discussions," Carlsgaard said of the route, "but we haven't filed any condemnation."

Construction isn't expected to begin until late 2014, he said.

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