A controversial high-voltage power line is now under construction in Scott County.
Towers are being erected on farmland south of Belle Plaine, and construction will continue across Scott County to the Lakeville area over the next year. The project is on schedule, but landowners in its path still have concerns.
The $730 million line will be up and running in 2015, stretching 250 miles from Brookings, S.D., to Hampton. It's the longest leg of CapX2020, a $2.2 billion transmission line network created by a consortium of 11 utility companies, including Xcel Energy and Great River Energy. The route, cost and effects of CapX 2020 have been hotly debated since it was proposed in 2007.
No roads will be closed during construction, but much of the line in the eastern half of the county will be along Hwy. 2, according to Brad Davis, planning manager for Scott County.
To the west, large portions of the line stretch across farmland. CapX has access to all of the land, Great River Energy spokesman Randy Fordice said, but it could take another year before all of it is purchased. In the stretch of the line from western Sibley County to Helena Township, about 20 landowners have entered into eminent domain negotiations, which could take another year, Fordice said.
Mark Koepp, a hog farmer near Belle Plaine, is one of several landowners with concerns about the line. Crews have erected five towers on his 134-acre farm, and another seven on nearby land that he rents.
Construction crews have been disruptive and careless, Koepp said, damaging soil and tile lines with drilling and cement trucks. Koepp said he is not confident he will be repaid for the damage, and he fears that he won't be able to grow corn and soybeans on the land for several years.
"With these people it's always a fight," he said.
CapX buys land based on contracted appraisals, Fordice said, and landowners will be paid for any damage to their property when heavy construction is finished.
"We want to make sure farmers are made whole as they're impacted by construction," he said.
Koepp's brother, Wayne, auctioned off 150 cattle from his nearby dairy farm and sold the land to Mark over fears that stray voltage from the lines would harm the cattle. Koepp said three other area dairy farms have been sold, and his mother has sold her house, which is in the project's path.
According to CapX, a record 79 Minnesota landowners have elected to sell their entire property to the utilities under the "Buy the Farm" law. These acquisitions are controversial, with some landowners demanding additional compensation for relocation and other expenses.
Last year, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that landowners are not eligible for additional payments. The state Supreme Court will hear the case in April. The Legislature also is considering a bill that would reverse the ruling.
The line's towers have been erected less than a half-mile from a Belle Plaine elementary school. Across the street, the district plans to someday build a high school, said school board member Gary Steinhagen.
Steinhagen also owns a dairy farm near the line, and said he shares other farmers' concerns about the project's effect on cattle. Fordice said that stray voltage is fixable and that it's only a concern for lower-voltage lines running directly into homes and other buildings.
Either way, Steinhagen said he is planning to stay put. He won't receive any compensation, since his property is adjacent to the line, and he needs to recoup the cost of his buildings.
"I've always dreamed of being a dairy farmer since I was a kid, and I plan on doing it until retirement," he said.
Tony Wagner is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.