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Mark Twain Transmission Project Is Coming Through Knox County

Forum And Open House Held In Rural Newark

By Echo Menges

Last week, on Wednesday, August 6, 2014, Ameren Services held two meetings in Knox County to give community representatives and members of the public information about the Mark Twain Transmission Project, which, according to project representatives, will be coming through Knox, Adair, Schuyler and Marion Counties.

Sections of the project could also go through Shelby and Lewis Counties, depending on the final route of the project.

The meetings held in Knox County took place at the Heartland Ozark Steakhouse & Lodge in rural Newark and were part of a three day campaign through Kirksville, rural Newark and Palmyra by Mark Twain Transmission Project representatives from Ameren Services, Burnes & McDonnel, which is an engineering, architectural, construction, environmental and consulting service and the FPA Group, which is handling the public relations/communications portion of the project.

The community representative forum in Knox County was attended by three local community representatives. The Knox County Eastern and Western Commissioners, Terry “Red” Callahan and Roger Parton, and this reporter. Representatives from MoDOT and Shelby County were also in attendance.

Currently project organizers are in the process of determining the route of the line through Northeast Missouri that will connect a substation near Palmyra to a substation near Kirksville and beyond.

According to Gary Brownfield, Supervising Engineer for Transmission Planning for Ameren Services,  essentially every state in the upper Midwest, including Missouri, has added rules called renewable electricity standards.

“Missouri Renewable Electricity Standards is a very important aspect of this. The State of Missouri enacted a renewable electricity standard (which) specifies that a minimum percentage of electricity sold in the state must come from renewable sources. All of us know that electricity coming from renewable sources is, by in large, going to come from wind turbans.” said Brownfield.

Ameren is part of an entity called the Mid-continent Independent System Operators or MISO. MISO is responsible for operating the energy market that covers the upper Midwest and currently reaches down into the central part of the United States. MISO is also responsible for coordinating regional planning and for conducting studies.

From 2008 to 2011 MISO and others, Ameren and the Missouri Public Service Commission included, conducted a study addressing the needs of all of the states that passed renewable energy standards. The study looked at the transmission (power) grid system.

The study determined the transmission grid is not strong enough and a significant number of new transmission lines need to be added to allow for the upcoming and developing wind power.

“It’s not robust enough to cope with (or) accommodate all of the wind generation that has to be added in order for the states to meet their renewable standards. It would be the equivalent of adding ten to 11 major power plants. They would be scattered throughout the upper Midwest as wind turbans turbines. The grid was not designed for that. The grid was designed for specific generation locations and specific pockets of customer load. It was not designed to accommodate the equivalent of ten major power plants spread over a wide geographic area,” said Brownfield. “A significant number of new transmission lines need to be built in the upper Midwest.”

“I’m in transmission planning. I’m aware of certain vulnerabilities that are present in the transmission system in this area and if certain combinations of things were to happen a big chunk of the State of Missouri would be out of service for a lengthy time. We don’t want that to happen,” said Brownfield.

This is a picture of a detailed maps provided to the public by Mark Twain Transmission Project Planners. Click the photo to be taken to their website where you can view and zoom in to detailed mapping of the proposed transmission line routes. They are asking for constructive feedback about the proposed.

This is a picture of a detailed map provided to the public by Mark Twain Transmission Project planners via their website. The public can choose a section of the project to view and zoom-in on it. It offers highly detailed look at the proposed transmission line routes. Ameren is asking the public and local officials for constructive feedback about the proposed routes.

According to  Ameren Services Mark Twain Project Manager James Jontry, II, two 345,000 volt line segments will run between Ameren’s Maywood substation near Palmyra, MO, to the Zachary substation near Kirksville, MO and north to the Iowa border.

“Another utility will take us from there up to near Ottumwa, Iowa. That’s about a hundred miles give or take depending on how the route lays out,” said Jontry.

The transmission lines will be held up by single shaft steel pole structures. They are poles, not towers, that do not require guy wires.

The steel poles will be approximately 90 to 130-feet in height set on top of a concrete pier foundation seven to ten feet in diameter, which will be 25 to 30 feet deep. The poles will carry a single circuit transmission line.

“With these lines you’ll be able to farm underneath them. With steel structures and foundations, you can farm pretty much right up to that foundation,” said Jontry. “And then if we come back through, when we do these maintenance activities (and) we come at a time where we do crop damage – we’ll reimburse for crop damage.”

The length between poles is expected to average 850-feet, which averages six or seven poles per mile. Ameren predicts that it will take approximately 200 workers to construct the line. And the property easement will be 150-feet wide.

“We want to get through 2014 coming out at the end of the year with a route selected. 2015 is a lot. We’ve got environmental permitting and easement acquisition and engineering design. This is the real estate portion of the project where we’re going out to acquire right-of-way with individual property owners,” said Jontry. “So that, we expect to wrap up mid-2015 and then we’ll start with the construction cycle.”

According to Ameren Transmission Stakeholder Relations representative Peggy Ladd, project planners don’t know if they will be obtaining easements through eminent domain, which is the power to take private property for public use by a state, municipality, or private person or corporation.

“We are actually seeking some guidance from the court system right now on what our role is as ATXI (Ameren Transmission of Illinois). We are doing this as Ameren Transmission Company of Illinois, not as Ameren Missouri,” said Ladd.  “At this point we don’t feel the PSC (Public Service Commission) has authority on this project but we are asking for some guidance from the courts. (That is) one reason we are really only in the planning stages right now and we will only get as far as determining a route. We won’t even start construction until we get some clarity on those issues. We don’t want to get ahead of the curve.”

According to Ladd, Ameren Missouri and Ameren Illinois have very strict rules they have to follow regarding easements.

“We’re allowed to pay a fair market price but we’re not allowed to overpay because if we overpay that cost gets sent on to our customers and the commission does not look favorably on, as we call it, gold plating things. So we have to pay within reason,” said Ladd. “They do call in for assessors. It’s not a price that Ameren just dictates.”

“They’ll hire a third party appraiser to come in and appraise the property,” said FPA Group Senior Communications Associate Leigh Morris, who has been brought in to help handle the public relations portion of the project.

According to Jontry, once the route is selected Ameren representatives will start meeting with individual landowners to acquire easements on the right-of-way.

“The right-of-way is 150-feet wide. Usually we’ll do the line right in the middle of it. And we get that for a permanent easement basically and that will be for construction, operation and maintenance of that line throughout its life. (It is a) One time payment made at the beginning,” said Jontry. “Some other issues that come up on real estate are access. During construction we may need to get access across somebody’s property. We may not need a permanent easement there. We’re going to meet with that landowner to get that access.”

The construction portion of the project, expected begin in less than a year, will begin by staking out the project in the ground followed by the clearing and removal of trees and brush and making access routes to the project sites.

Once the right-of-way is cleared and access routes have been established large drillers and concrete trucks will be brought in to put in the foundations. After the foundations have been laid the big steel poles will start going up and the wire will be strung.

The line is scheduled to be tested and turned on in 2018.

The final step of the process is to come back through the project area and repair any damage to public and private property caused during the construction portion.

“The process that’s going to drag on the longest is the restoration process where we come back and make good on everything we’ve worked (out) and make sure it’s restored to the requirement that we need to,” said Jontry.

During the forum attendees broke into groups and shared concerns about the project. Concerns brought up by officials from Knox County included the impact on farm and pasture land, impact on livestock, impact on public health, impact to wildlife like deer, turkey and quail populations and the proximity of the transmission line to homes and businesses.

This is a picture of the Mark Twain Transmission Project Study Map. Click the image to view the map on their website.

This is a picture of the Mark Twain Transmission Project Study Map. Click the image to view the map on their website.

According to a Burns & McDonnell Manager of Environmental Studies and Permitting, Chris Wood, the group is looking at about 18 proposed segments of transmission line between Palmyra and Kirksville. To determine the best route – engineering, social and environmental criteria will be analyzed. Over the next few months the route options will be narrowed down to two or three options and another round of community representative forums and public open houses will be held in Kirksville, rural Newark and Plevna.

All of the feedback from both rounds of meetings will be gone over and a final route will be selected by the end of the year.

“Once we’ve done that we’ll notify the property owners of the final route,” said Wood. “That’s generally the routing process.”

“This is a plethora of options. Of those only one line will be built,” said Ladd. “We’re going to do this again in October.”

“What doesn’t help us too much is when people say – not here. The reality is for a 100 mile line pretty much anybody that touches that line is going to say – not here. What helps us is to say – this is a good option or this is a better option – to give us some kind of idea of what is a reasonable opportunity. I always like to say – what’s the smart route? And – not here – doesn’t help me determine what a smart route is. No route is not an option. MISO told us – you’ve got to have this thing built by 2018 – so we’ve got to get our ducks in a row,” said Ladd.

If you would like to comment on this story specifically please leave your remarks in the comment section on our website.

If you would like to comment and give feedback to Ameren about the proposed route you can contact them by email, mail and telephone.

Hotline: 888.340.6640
Mail: Mark Twain Transmission Project
c/o Burns & McDonnell
Jennifer Berry
9400 Ward Parkway
Kansas City, MO 64114

Click HERE to visit Ameren’s Mark Twain Transmission Project Website.

Over the last week The Edina Sentinel has received several calls pertaining to health concerns for people and livestock who live near or are kept near high voltage power lines. We will investigate those concerns and release our findings when they become available.

This story was originally printed in the August 13, 2014, edition of The Edina Sentinel.