By MARK EVANS
STE. GENEVIEVE HERALD
Imminent domain attorney Paul Henry expressed cautious optimism about the ability of concerned landowners in Ste. Genevieve County to defend their land last Friday night.
Henry addressed a crowd of well over 100 people at the Bloomsdale Knights of Columbus Hall, concerned about an attempt by Citizens Electric Corporation (CEC) and Wabash Valley Power to build a 19,000-kilowat power line through the county.
The meeting was organized by Heather Carron, who along with Andy Bartek and Kyla Parker, had expressed concern and frustration about the situation at a Ste. Genevieve County Commission meeting in April.
They fear the 19-mile line, whose path has been altered twice, will hurt property values and affect livestock’s health – if not humans’ health.
“The reality is that you really want to stop it,” Henry told the crowd. “That’s why these folks are here, to hear your concerns. You really don’t want it to go through.”
Henry nodded at a table occupied by county commissioners Garry Nelson, Karen Stuppy and Randy Ruzicka and State Representatives Dale Wright and Cyndi Buchheit-Courtway when he said “these folks.”
The attorney seemed amazed to see such support from local officials.
“I’ve been to dozens and dozens of meetings like this and I’ve never seen a turnout of elected officials like they are,” he said.
He admitted that, should CEC and Wabash turn to imminent domain, the odds are in their favor.
“The question is, if there are enough people, will they simply go away?” Henry said. “I don’t know if they have a number in their head. I haven’t seen a level reach a height where it literally scares them away.”
He warned the audience that this type of project is rarely ever stopped.
“Unfortunately, in my experience, I’ve not seen very many projects like this stopped,” Henry said. “But, it doesn’t mean this one is going to be the same as all the others. It may be unique enough, the demand may be weak enough where they say, ‘OK, the community is in an uproar; it’s on the TV; it’s in the newspapers; the elected officials are behind you.’”
He also noted that CEC having locally-known board members also gives an advantage to the stakeholders in this instance.
“I would say, compared to the other projects I’ve been involved in, you have a better chance – not that it’s a great chance, but a better chance. And I always say, fight the fight because you’d rather fight the fight than just lay down and let them roll over you.”
That line drew some applause from the audience.
“If you fought it and you won, I’d be very happy for you,” Henry said.
One audience member said that, years ago, her ancestral farm was taken over.
“I’m telling you, folks, you can’t fight it,” the woman said. “You can hold off and you will get more money, but they’re going to get it in the end.”
Henry agreed that he didn’t want to spread “false hopes,” but reiterated that this situation might be unique enough for the land owners to have a legitimate shot at victory.
“This project could be different,” he said. “It doesn’t sound like there’s an extraordinary need for it and you have a different kind of entity (with elected board members) that’s backing it,” he said. “You’ve got elected officials who are being responsive … You have the press; you’re doing what you’re supposed to do. You’re getting the community behind you.”
The previous speaker listed things they had done in the unsuccessful attempt.
“We did everything we could,” she said, adding that her late sister “knew all the right people to call to stop it … we couldn’t stop it.”
Henry quoted a children’s song and said they should “keep plugging along” at the effort.
Henry had spoken at the start of the meeting, explaining imminent domain law and condemnation. He then answered questions, including the above exchanges.
Event organizer Heather Carron then wrapped up the meeting by looking at how to take the next step.
“Andrew Bartek, Kyla Parker and I originally were very angry about these power lines,” Carron said. “A meeting was set up with our county commissioners. They were gracious enough to listen to us.”
She added that the Herald helped get word out with a front-page story on the issue.
“We spoke to Mr. Henry about getting it out there, getting public support,” she said. “Since that meeting, we have petitions. … We need your support. Even though you may not be affected by the line, there’s still consequences to our tax dollars. If you live a quarter of a mile from a substation, you can still feel the effects of these lines. Our property values will probably not be the same That’s where we’re at right now.”