Transmission line battle going strong three years later

Since 2014, the proposed Mark Twain Transmission Project has been a controversial topic for many in northeast Missouri. (KTVO File)

Three years later, and the fight is still going strong between Ameren Transmission Company of Illinois (ATXI) and local landowners.

Since 2014, the proposed Mark Twain Transmission Project has been a controversial topic for many in northeast Missouri.

At a series of open houses held in the fall of 2014, landowners had a chance to learn what the project would entail.

Those open houses proved aggravating for some, and as a result, the opposition group Neighbors United was formed.

Over the years, that group has grown from fewer than 20 people, to roughly 200 unhappy landowners.

"There is a group of us who have come together, just everyday citizens, and we call ourselves Neighbors United," said Beth Campbell, a member in 2014. "We are here to help some other folks who are being affected by the transmission line to give them alternate information than what Ameren is passing on."

And, that's exactly what they did.

ATXI officials continue to say that they've never seen a group fight as hard as Neighbors United.

While that group continues to make headlines today, many may not remember the other two entities that could have been impacted by the initial routes proposed by Ameren.

One, is the Shekinah Mennonite community located just northeast of Kirksville, and the other, an extensive Amish community in Greentop.

"They don't speak out," said concerned citizen Jason Haxton. "They don't believe in being aggressive and so Ameren is threatening their homes, their schools, their churches and their land property values. They, by nature of their religion, cannot speak out."

Despite the growing opposition from a number of parties, the Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) ultimately voted in April 2016 to approve the project.

However, the PSC also ruled that ATXI needed to receive approval from all five counties the line would pass through.

That task has proved difficult, as all counties continue to remain opposed.

KTVO spoke with Adair County Commissioner Mark Thompson during a meeting held in April 2016.

He said he and fellow commissioners will change their stance on the project "as soon as Hell freezes over."

Due to ongoing complications to receive approval on the initially proposed line, Ameren has decided to take another route - esentially, rebooting the project.

A new partnership with Northeast Missouri Electric Power Cooperative would allow ATXI to use rights of way from existing transmission lines.

ATXI President Shawn Schukar is confident this new plan will win over the public.

"We are trying to listen because we believe this project brings good economic reliability and access to resources. We think there is a win-win with the project with the jobs and the solution that's going to work for everybody."

Although the utility companies are excited about this new prospect, landowners and Neighbors United members remain puzzled.

They continue to question why using existing rights of way wasn't the plan first proposed back in 2014.

Schuyler County resident John Leunen spoke last year of ATXI's option to use routes already in place.

The utility continued to refuse.

"They are building a line through territory that they don't need to build it through. They have an existing line on the west side of the county that they can upgrade just like they did in Iowa."

When asked why co-locating the line wasn't proposed the first time around, Schukar says the answer is simple.

The line originally proposed offered the highest level of reliability.

At a press conference in early May of this year, the utilities thanked Senator Brian Munzlinger and State Representatives Craig Redmon, Lindell Shumake and Nate Walker.

Redmon says he feels a solution has been found to move the project forward.

"I still believe that we need more electricity and more reliability, but at the same time, I don't want my constituents rights trampled on. So, that's a delicate balance and I feel the work that we've done with ATXI, Northeast Power and our local cooperatives have accomplished that."

Despite the thanks of support at the press conference, State Representative Nate Walker says he remains in opposition.

He says "I will continue to listen to my constituents, farmers and landowners directly affected by this project. At present, my position has not changed."

Last month, another series of open houses were held to share information on the new lines.

ATXI officials are now working to select a finalized route based on the feedback generated.

Once that route is announced, ATXI will once again go back to the PSC and county commissions in hopes of receiving approval to begin construction.

ATXI has target dates if the new plan moves forward.

Construction on the lines is slated to begin in 2018, with an in-service date the following year.

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