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Concerns of Thumb Loop aired at planning meeting

The matter was brought up by Huron County Commissioner Clark Elftman, who said he received a call from a concerned constituent who said a representative from ITC Transmission came to her home and was not friendly or willing to work with the landowner. Planning Commissioner Bernie Creguer said he has heard concerns from people as well.

BAD AXE - Huron County Planning Commission members earlier this week discussed some concerns regarding the route of ITCTransmission's Thumb Loop.

The matter was brought up by Huron County Commissioner Clark Elftman, who said he received a call from a concerned constituent who said a representative from ITC Transmission came to her home and was not friendly or willing to work with the landowner.

Planning Commissioner Bernie Creguer said he has heard concerns from people as well, particularly because the route runs through the middle of farmland. Creguer said the whole point of wind energy in Huron County was to preserve farmland, and running electrical poles through the middle of farmland does not preserve farmland.

Elftman said he was at Wednesday's planning commission meeting to discuss his constituent's concern. But planning commission members noted the board doesn't deal with ITCTransmission. Officials didn't know where concerns should be directed, though it was believed contacting ITC directly would be the best thing for concerned landowners to do.

Joe Kirik, ITCTransmission senior capital communications specialist, told the Tribune on Friday that there... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

BAD AXE - Huron County Planning Commission members earlier this week discussed some concerns regarding the route of ITCTransmission's Thumb Loop.

The matter was brought up by Huron County Commissioner Clark Elftman, who said he received a call from a concerned constituent who said a representative from ITC Transmission came to her home and was not friendly or willing to work with the landowner.

Planning Commissioner Bernie Creguer said he has heard concerns from people as well, particularly because the route runs through the middle of farmland. Creguer said the whole point of wind energy in Huron County was to preserve farmland, and running electrical poles through the middle of farmland does not preserve farmland.

Elftman said he was at Wednesday's planning commission meeting to discuss his constituent's concern. But planning commission members noted the board doesn't deal with ITCTransmission. Officials didn't know where concerns should be directed, though it was believed contacting ITC directly would be the best thing for concerned landowners to do.

Joe Kirik, ITCTransmission senior capital communications specialist, told the Tribune on Friday that there are two ways people can contact ITCTransmission. The first is by calling the customer service hotline at (877) ITC-ITC9 - (877) 482-4829 - or e-mail thumbloop@itctransco.com.

An audience member at Wednesday's county planning commission meeting also suggested landowners call Jon D. Kreucher, of the Howard & Howard law firm in Royal Oak. Kreucher is representing dozens of landowners in the negotiations with ITC and any subsequent condemnation lawsuits that ITC may file.

Howard & Howard represents a large number of landowners

"We represented many landowners in the underlying proceeding at the (Michigan Public Service Commission - MPSC), so we're very familiar with that proceeding and the ongoing appeal and proceedings," Kreucher told the Tribune in an interview this week.

He said Howard & Howard has clients all along the route, which runs in Tuscola, Huron, Sanilac and St. Clair counties.

The route was approved Feb. 25, when the MPSC approved ITC's Thumb Loop project, which consists of approximately 140 miles of double-circuit 345,000 volt (345 kV) lines and four new substations.

Kreucher said landowners between Frankenmuth and Bad Axe were actively involved in the underlying proceeding at the MPSC.

"So they're probably a little more up to speed in terms of the progress ITC's made and the inevitability of the line - Bad Axe through St. Clair County," he said.

Last month, Kreucher had an informational meeting in Sandusky that was attended by 180 landowners from the eastern side of the Thumb.

"Many of them are hearing about the line for the first time," he said. "They don't have as much information about the line and where it would go or what to expect next."

It makes sense that there's more awareness on the west side of the loop, as that is where ITC intends to begin construction.

"I'm sure folks on the east side will pick up the information quickly, but right now, they are at the point of digesting what the certificate means to them," Kreucher said.

The certificate he's referring to is the expedited siting certificate the MPSC approved for ITC to upgrade the grid, which is just about at maximum capacity.

To facilitate wind developments, The Clean, Renewable and Efficient Energy Act (PA 295) of 2008 requires MPSC to grant an expedited siting certificate to facilitate such an upgrade, providing a number of requirements are met, including one stating the proposed transmission line has the capacity to handle the wind potential of the wind energy resource zone.

ITC's application that was approved by the MPSC was for a 5,000 megawatt transmission line, which meets both the estimated minimum and maximum wind potential generation in the Thumb.

The new system will be constructed in stages, with the first segment, the western side of the loop from Tuscola County to Huron County, tentatively planned to enter service in late 2013, according to ITC's updated capital project profile.

The remainder of the system would be targeted for completion by 2015.

Project is moving forward, despite appeals

ITC already has begun to contact landowners who have property on the line route and has begun discussions with them about obtaining easement agreements for the necessary right-of-way.

"It's clear that they're pursuing access to property for their surveying crews - they're already starting ... and sometimes, showing up unannounced asking landowners for access to the property," Kreucher said. "And they will continue to pursue property interests they need to secure the line, unless there is a stay for the order."

The stay Kreucher is referring to was part of appeals filed last month. The Michigan Public Power Agency (MPPA) and the Michigan Municipal Electric Association (MMEA) filed a motion for stay pending appeal, and the Association of Business Advocating Tariff Equity (ABATE) filed a motion for stay and motion for immediate consideration regarding the MPSC's Feb. 25 approval of the Thumb Loop route, according to E-docket information on the MPSC's website.

The appeals cite a number of reasons, including that the route is not economically justified - i.e. the system is larger than what actually is needed - and that the MPSC didn't apply other law that is more stringent then PA 295 in its decision to approve the route.

The briefing on the motions to stay has been completed, and although the MPSC could call a special meeting to issue an order approving or rejecting the request for stay, the next natural opportunity to rule on the request would be at the next MPSC meeting, which is scheduled for Tuesday.

ITC officials have made it clear the company will continue to do its surveying work to garner necessary right-of-ways through the appeal process, providing no stay is granted to cease work.

Need to bring eastern landowners up to speed

Kreucher said his current focus is getting word out about the project to landowners in the Thumb who only now are becoming aware of the project. He said landowners need to know that ITC has everything it needs to construct the line, and absent some currently unexpected twist, landowners should expect ITC will continue on its path.

"And second, it's a really good idea to really try to join efforts with your neighbors - be part of a group - and stay informed on this because groups can share communications, they can share questions with each other ... it's just a much more efficient way of dealing with this process and leveling the playing field with ITC," Kreucher said.

He noted when a landowner goes through this process, they go through it in stages. First they learn of the development, and the second stage is to resist the plan if they think it would adversely affect their interest. The third stage is to be in denial as to ITC having the right to build the line. The fourth and fifth stages include recognizing the line will be built and making sure the landowner is justly compensated.

"This learning curve has these stages and the people on the west have been informed, resisted and now have accepted ITC has the certificate and need to begin construction - while folks on the east side are still asking questions about what ITC plans and whether they have what they need do to, which they do. There's a little bit of resistance, a little bit of denial ... but the reality is at this point, ITC has what it needs to begin construction, so they need to be prepared when ITC comes knocking on their door, (so) they have a really good sense of what their property is worth."

Firm can ID properties on line

Kreucher said landowners are welcome to contact his office to learn about the line, what property the line will cross, and how it might affect them.

"We probably get half a dozen calls about that each day," he said. "We hate to be the bearer of bad news ... but it's better people have an understanding of how they'll be affected rather than learning it for the first time when the ITC land men come knocking on their door."

One of the biggest concerns is having poles placed in farm fields where people have worked for generations to remove obstacles, Kreucher said. There's a whole host of other concerns, including tile damage, future easement access, soil compaction, potentially losing the ability to irrigate a field and challenges to aerial spraying, he said.

"And most of the landowners I talk to, they aren't even necessarily opposed to the line - (they) wish it could be placed in the least obtrusive manner," Kreucher said, adding most landowners promote renewable energy, but they are concerned about minimizing the impact to their land.

He said there is a difference between having a wind turbine in a field versus a power line. First, landowners can volunteer to have a wind turbine on their land. However, in a condemnation proceeding, much of the control is out of their hands.

"It really does have a different flavor and feel to the landowner for that reason," Kreucher said, noting turbines also generate revenue year after year, where as in most cases, transmission lines do not pay the farmer for every year of their presence. "And of course, the irony of this is the transmission line will compete for the same space the turbines otherwise would have occupied."

Lawyer: Consult experts

ITC has pledged its cooperation in terms of minimizing the damage and repairing any damage that occurs.

"We're certainly hoping for and counting on their cooperation and good faith effort to follow through with that," Kreucher said.

When it comes time for negotiations, Kreucher said, it's important landowners consult an expert to ensure they are getting compensated for everything they are entitled to.

"There are some landowners that believe that they know their property better than anyone else, so they have a sense that they have a real good idea of what ITC should be offering for the property - but valuation for sake of condemnation is a fairly complex process," he said.

Experts to consult include appraisers that are competent in the area of condemnation and just compensation calculations.

"Law firms establish the loss, the appraisers value the loss," Kreucher explained, noting the nice thing about the condemnation procedures act is most, if not all, of those expenses can be reimbursed to the landowner, if properly pursued, from ITC.


Source: http://www.michigansthumb.c...

APR 9 2011
http://www.windaction.org/posts/30568-concerns-of-thumb-loop-aired-at-planning-meeting
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