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Rural Missouri Magazine

Handling a hot potato

by Barry Hart

by Barry Hart

Of the hundreds of bills that will be filed in the legislative session that begins this month, Missouri’s electric cooperatives will be paying the most attention to those that deal with the eminent domain issue. In all my time working with Missouri’s legislature on a wide variety of issues, I’ve never seen a potato as hot as this one.

Eminent domain is the right of government or other entities to take private property for public use. It became the issue when the U.S. Supreme Court passed judgment on a controversial Connecticut case.

At stake in this case was whether a city could take land using eminent domain and then give it to a developer. In its decision last June, the court ruled that taking land for economic development purposes qualified as a “public use.”

That decision stirred up a hornet’s nest of debate and caused Missouri’s Gov. Matt Blunt to form a task force to look into the matter. The governor’s task force heard suggestions from property owners, local electric co-ops, chambers of commerce, businesses, cities, other utilities and many other organizations. Now it’s up to the legislature to look at the committee’s recommendations and decide whether or not to change Missouri’s law.

As we shaped our position on this issue, it became apparent that Missouri’s electric cooperatives needed to meet with a broad coalition of groups, like the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, to find common ground. Of special interest was the Missouri Farm Bureau because we share so many members and both of us represent rural people. I am pleased that Farm Bureau’s President Charlie Kruse felt the same way and wants to continue working together.

Your electric co-op is keenly interested in this issue because from time to time all utilities must acquire right of way to build new power lines, substations and power plants. Ninety percent of the time, electric co-ops are able to come to terms with those involved in such a project.

But on those rare occasions when eminent domain must be used, it is critical in order to keep our supply of electricity reliable and affordable.

In fact, Missouri has one of the nation’s most affordable and reliable power supply systems because of our ability to build when necessary.

Missouri’s electric co-ops are all for fairness when it comes to dealing with landowners. Where we draw the line is with people who believe nothing should ever be built anywhere. For our state to progress, to attract new jobs and keep the ones we already have, our system of power supply must be able to grow as more people and businesses move into rural areas.

In deciding when to use eminent domain, electric co-ops strive for balance. That’s because the person we are negotiating with in most cases is a cooperative member and owner.

As Missouri’s leaders work on refining this political hot potato, we will do our best to continue handling it with your best interests in mind.

Hart is executive vice president of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives.

E-mail Barry Hart

 

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Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives

Rural Missouri
2722 E. McCarty Street
P.O. Box 1645 • Jefferson City, Mo. 65102
573-659-3423

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