JEFFERSON CITY — Two high-profile projects with national impact — the space age Hyperloop and the controversial Grain Belt Express — packed a hearing room during the first full week of the legislative session.

The House General Laws committee heard testimony on public-private partnerships for a Hyperloop and the role of eminent domain in building the Grain Belt line.

House Bill 1963, sponsored by Rep. Travis Fitzwater, R-Holts Summit, proposes allowing tube system projects to be eligible for public-private partnerships. The bill is designed to pave the way for a Hyperloop certification track in Missouri.

“It’s a priority for ensuring that we’re still at the table when these conversations about where the certification track goes in the country are taking place,” Fitzwater said. “It’s really important we clarify the language.”

Fitzwater stressed that the bill, if passed, would not immediately put public money toward the project. Rather, it allows lawmakers to consider proposals to use public money for tube system projects.

Fitzwater said he and other members of a Blue Ribbon Panel that examined the feasibilty of Hyperloop traveled to Nevada, where a certification track is being built. He said that project still needs millions of dollars, and the visit made it clear that funding of a track in Missouri would need to come largely from private sources.

The bill also would not grant companies proposing tube projects eminent domain, though it doesn’t prohibit it.

The question of eminent domain was raised again in discussions of House Bill 2033. First introduced last year in similar legislation, the bill seeks to regulate the use of eminent domain by private companies on private property.

The bill is aimed at a specific project, the Grain Belt Express, which would build a 780-mile system of above-ground power lines to deliver wind energy to several states, including Missouri.

Last year, hundreds of eminent domain opponents crowded the Capitol for a rally in support of the bill that would have blocked the use of eminent domain. It made it through the House but ran out of time in the Senate. Republican leaders from both chambers last year spoke in favor removing eminent domain as a tool for the Grain Belt project.

Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Frankford, said the use of eminent domain takes the choice away from landowners when it comes to selling their property. The company in charge of the project, Invenergy, said condemnation of properties under eminent domain is more of a last resort.

“We are not seeking ownership,” Nicole Luckey, director of regulatory affairs at Invenergy, said. “We are seeking an easement over folks’ land. Landowners will retain full ownership of the land in an easement. They can continue to use it for agricultural purposes.”

Luckey said landowners would be paid 110% of the market value in an easement, plus a structured payment that can be taken in a lump sum or in an annual payment, which would increase every year. She also cited the “thousands of jobs” the project will bring — jobs which she said will be filled by Missourians.

Hansen said the project will benefit other states more than Missouri, and much of the energy generated by the project will go to other states and only to small areas of Missouri.

“If you’re gonna use eminent domain on 700 citizens or businesses or operations to benefit somebody 100 miles from that municipality — 100 miles from where I live — I don’t think that’s fair,” Hansen said.

Marilyn O’Bannon, a Monroe County landowner whose family has several tracts that will be crossed by the line, said the towers for the lines create impediments that get in the way of her equipment. Their land already has another power line on it, and this would add to the problems.

O’Bannon said that she’d lose hundreds of dollars worth of corn and soybeans because of the lines taking up space, money that Luckey said she would be compensated for.

But the biggest concern for O’Bannon is that she’d be losing use of some of her land for little compensation, while residents elsewhere in the state would see the financial benefit.

“This issue of eminent domain is the big cloud,” O’Bannon said.

Supervising editor is Mark Horvit.

  • State Government reporter, fall 2019 Studying investigative journalism Reach me at eew3pr@mail.missouri.edu, or in the newsroom at 882-5700

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