Court case to test Minnesota's 'Buy the Farm' law
- Article by: STEVE KARNOWSKI
- Associated Press
- April 18, 2014 - 7:35 PM
MINNEAPOLIS — A case set for trial next week is expected to test Minnesota's "Buy the Farm" law, which is meant to require utilities building high-voltage power lines to buy out farms in the way if affected landowners demand it.
The case pits the developers of the CapX2020 project against Cedar Summit Farm near New Prague, which fills its old-school glass bottles on site and keeps its cows on a 100 percent grass diet. Owners Dave and Florence Minar say they can't properly operate an organic dairy farm under a 345,000-volt power line, so they're trying to use the law to force CapX2020 to buy their farm and pay the costs of relocating their operation.
The case is one of dozens of land disputes arising from CapX2020, an initiative by 11 utilities including Xcel Energy and Great River Energy to expand and ensure the reliability of the region's electrical grid. The $2 billion project includes five new high-voltage lines covering nearly 800 miles. A planned line from Brookings, S.D., to Hampton, Minn., runs right over the Minars' farm.
"Our whole business is at stake," Dave Minar said Friday. "We don't want to continue dairy farming under high-voltage power lines."
They're worried about stray voltage, which can crop up on dairy farms when electricity leaks from power lines and equipment. It can give cows small shocks that make them shy away from their water and food or make them so skittish that they're hard to handle. It can reduce milk production and cause other health problems in the animals.
"They're saying we won't have a problem, but I don't believe them," Dave Minar said.
The trial is scheduled for Wednesday through Friday before Scott County District Judge Caroline Lennon in Shakopee. The Minars said they hope their case will be bolstered by changes in the 1977 law that they helped persuade the Legislature to adopt last year, as well as a recent Minnesota Supreme Court decision applying the law in favor of other property owners in the path of a CapX2020 line.
The Buy the Farm law lists several criteria a landowner must meet to exercise an "election" for a buyout and relocation costs. The Minars' attorney, Rod Krass, said they easily qualify even though the utilities claim the Minars have not met any of the tests.
"Everything that can be contested, they're contesting," Krass said of the utilities. "And so this has put incredible pressure and stress on this family. We're not understanding — given the Legislature's obvious intent to protect people like the Minars — why we're having to go through all of this."
CapX2020 officials declined an interview request but issued a statement saying the Minars aren't eligible because their operation counts as commercial land, and that only one transmission tower would be built on their land.
"Under the statute, commercial land is not eligible for election. In addition, the Supreme Court has held that a reasonableness requirement must be read into the statute," the statement said. "The CapX2020 utilities have challenged the reasonableness of this election because it involves only one transmission structure that occupies less than one acre on a 132-acre property that includes a commercial dairy operation and retail store."
Any compensation would be determined later. Even if they win, the Minars said, relocating would be difficult. They would need about 400 relatively contiguous acres not much farther from the Twin Cities than their current farm because that's where most of their customers are, Florence Minar said. They're not sure if they could find that much land that's already certified as organic. If it's not, it would take three years to get conventional farm land certified.
Cedar Summit Farm milk and other products are sold at most natural food stores in the Twin Cities area and some other outlets around the region, as well as at farm itself. Dave Minar said they had to work hard for 12 years to get shelf space in all the stores, and he doesn't think they'd get most of it back if they were out of business for three years.
"We didn't ask for this power line. It's taken a chunk out of our lives for the last four or five years," he said.
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