I was recently made aware of a Des Moines FM podcast on transmission line eminent domain in Iowa starring the usual cast of characters from the Center for Rural Affairs (CFRA). And they're saying basically the same old things. Over the past several years, CFRA has popped up from time to time with a "report" or other half-baked ideas designed to convince landowners to knuckle under and simply accept new electric transmission across their land. Remember the Special Purpose Development Corporation idea? That was special, no doubt about it. Every time CFRA pops up with another idea, landowners shout it down, and CFRA goes back to the drawing board to create another great idea or "report." Now CFRA is threatening to release another "report" on a "survey" of landowners with opinions of electric transmission projects. I'm just guessing here, but I suspect that none of the landowners who successfully derailed the Rock Island Clean Line were contacted to participate in this "survey."
So, what's in the 26 minute interview? CFRA wants landowners to know how PAINFUL and EXPENSIVE eminent domain for transmission can be. Is CFRA scaring you yet? According to CFRA, landowners should avoid eminent domain. Well, hey, that sounds like a plan! Except that's where landowners and CFRA part ways. Landowners avoid eminent domain by refusing to negotiate voluntary rights of way and by participating in the regulatory process through objections to the transmission project. They also contact their legislators and work to pass important new laws that protect the landowners from unneeded transmission projects. CFRA's way to avoid eminent domain? Give in. Negotiate with developers. Allow developers to "have use of a certain area of your land" (remember, it's not a sale, it's just use of your land, according to CFRA -- except it IS a sale, it's an encumbrance on your title that allows use and control of your land by someone else in perpetuity). According to CFRA, landowners are supposed to make sure they're being compensated fairly, and "work with developers" to negotiate an easement on a part of their land where they "don't mind if there's an easement on it." CFRA's ultimate goal is for you to have a voluntary transmission easement across your land that you are "happy with." And you're supposed to do all this without the assistance of a lawyer. CFRA says it's not normal for landowners to seek legal counsel before signing legal agreements for the sale of an easement. Even when questioned by the host, CFRA advised that "usually" only a landowner and the transmission developer are involved. But sometimes landowners can get "uncomfortable" when a developer is pissing on their leg and telling them it's raining. If that happens to you, you could get a lawyer, or you can always ask CFRA for help. Hmmm.... wait a tick... CFRA is the one who said you didn't need a lawyer in the first place. How much help do you think they'll be?
And that's the problem. CFRA is no help. In fact, they're a grant-funded transmission cheerleader. While CFRA originally came into existence on the government dole to stand up for small family farmers, it was defunded a long, long time ago. But CFRA has continued to exist on grants from private "funds" and "foundations." While government grants, like all grants, have some strings and deliverables, private entity grants have massive, thick ropes instead of strings. They're not always for the good of the people. And organizations like CFRA must perform all sorts of things in order to unlock the funding that keeps them going.
Such as this:
And telling landowners to roll over and allow new transmission across their land is how they "deliver" to their funders.
Except it's not working. Despite CFRA's best efforts to convince Iowans to accept the Rock Island Clean Line, the only "voice" that developed was the resounding roar of opposition that killed that project for good. RICL has failed. CFRA has failed. The "rural voice" does not support new transmission across their land, for any reason. It's not true that "more public engagement" and "encouraging landowners to talk to developers" is going to change any landowner's mind. It's only making CFRA more and more irrelevant to rural America.
No landowner is ever "happy" with a transmission easement across his land. Ever. There's only degrees of unhappiness. And landowners are stepping up in increasing numbers and refusing to be unhappy at all. They're dedicated to stopping transmission projects altogether, and they're winning.
Hey, maybe we can take up a collection to fund a new grant that CFRA can apply for? I'll call it the Transmission Opposition Grant, and it will require the recipient to build, activate, and mobilize a rural voice supportive of landowner rights. I've put a nickel on the table. Who's in?