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Missouri Landowners Complain Of In-Person Contacts From Power-Line Developer During Pandemic

Marilyn O'Bannon
Kevin O'Bannon and his grandson, Grey, near where the Grain Belt Express is expected to be built in Monroe County, Missouri. His wife, Marilyn Morgan O'Bannon is one of the leaders of the group seeking to block the transmission line.

Missouri landowners who are fighting a high-voltage wind energy transmission line set to be built across the state are angry that agents seeking permission to survey their land have approached them during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Here we have someone traipsing across the state of Missouri landing on people’s doorsteps,” said Marilyn O’Bannon, the leader of an organization opposed to the transmission line. “As much as we don’t want the project, it’s the timing. Why would you send people out in a time like this?”

Dubbed the Grain Belt Express, the proposed 780-mile wind energy transmission project won approval a year ago from the Missouri Public Service Commission. The line would run roughly from Dodge City, Kansas, across Missouri and Illinois before connecting to an electric grid in Indiana, which services the eastern U.S. It's being developed by a Chicago-based company called Invenergy.

Since March 14, O'Bannon said, landowners in three counties report being contacted in person by at least two agents who represent Invenergy.

O’Bannon, a leader of the opposition group Block Grain Belt Express Missouri, said the proposed line would be built in front of her parent’s farm in Monroe County, north of Columbia. She called on Invenergy to stop approaching people until federal and state officials call a halt to social distancing because of the coronavirus.

The agents are seeking right-of-way easements and survey permissions for the line and have been making the visits at least through March 19, O’Bannon said. The company representatives show up unannounced and are asking for legal rights to enter the person’s property, she said, which is irresponsible during a pandemic.

Credit Invenergy
The Grain Belt Express, set for construction in late 2021, runs across eight counties in Missouri and will affect 500 property owners.

An Invenergy official said the contacts ended last week and included communicating with the landowners.

"Members of our team held meetings, upon approval from landowners, to discuss conducting these surveys later this spring,” said Beth Conley, Invenergy spokeswoman. “These meetings were halted when CDC guidance limited the ability to have in-person meetings.”

Since the state commission approved the Grain Belt Express, a number of “development activities” must take place before the beginning of construction, which is expected in late 2021, Conley said.

For example, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and the Missouri Department of Conservation require Invenergy to conduct bat surveys so the line can avoid rare populations of the species, she said.

Until CDC guidance changes, Invenergy employees and contractors are working remotely and any contact with landowners will be done electronically, by phone or through the mail, she said.

Peggy Lowe is an investigative reporter at KCUR and the Marketplace hub reporter. She's on Twitter at @peggyllowe.

I’m a veteran investigative reporter who came up through newspapers and moved to public media. I want to give people a better understanding of the criminal justice system by focusing on its deeper issues, like institutional racism, the poverty-to-prison pipeline and police accountability. Today this beat is much different from how reporters worked it in the past. I’m telling stories about people who are building significant civil rights movements and redefining public safety. Email me at lowep@kcur.org.
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