First and foremost, thanks to all the people that contributed time, money, or even just encouragement. This was clearly a group project, and no single person could have resolved this case, in the way we all were able to do so as a group.
As of December 2010, Ameren has yet to file a docket with the ICC regarding Eminent Domain over the approved route. Of course this is contrary to what they said about trying to expedite the process. I am continuing to monitor the situation.
The Bald Eagles, this mating season, have spread through the area rivers for their normal winter feeding and roosting. While most area rivers report fewer Bald Eagles than normal, the Fox River Valley, around the Dayton Hydroelectric Dam, has been priveleged to host an unusually large number of them.
“It is as if the Bald Eagles are trying to thank us for saving their most valuable habitat in the area.”
--Kirk, Bald Eagle Mating Season, 2010-2011
The Illinois Commerce Commission decided our case at their June 23, 2010 bench meeting, in Springfield, IL. Judge Albers had requested expediency in this matter, and the commissioners unanimously approved Judge Albers’ proposed ruling. Since previous deliberations in this case had occured at their open meetings, we expected the decision to be made at their Open meeting on June 29, 2010, so none of us attended. Nonetheless, they saw the wisdom in our arguments and ruled heavily in our favor.
From the ruling:
Having reviewed the evidence of record, and upon consideration of all relevant route selection criteria as described by the parties, the Commission finds that the criteria described above favor the State Route 71 route over the Fox River route. Therefore, the Commission finds that the State Route 71 route is the least cost route when all costs and benefits are taken into account.
On Monday, May 17, 2010, Judge Albers submitted the preliminary order. It is now official. On Tuesday, June 1, 2010, Ameren filed a letter of explanation/apology in lieu of any kind of Exception Brief to the proposed ruling. At this point, we were on track to a convincing victory.
The ruling highly supports our position. Here is just one random quote from the 38 page document. References to “Petitioners” are references to Ameren. For more quotes, refresh this page.
How Petitioners failed to consider the safety impact of a transmission line near a hospital helipad, airport, and skydiving operation when entering into the stipulation is perplexing. Even if there was no opposition at the time the stipulation was entered into, the notion that a 138kV transmission line is compatible with such aviation activities is puzzling. While other factors are certainly pertinent in evaluating transmission line sites, there is no indication that Petitioners considered the impact of their project on the safety of flight crews, skydivers, and those beneath them when they determined that a transmission line along this route is reasonable. The Commission admonishes Petitioners to be more attentive to safety concerns when evaluating routes for transmission lines in the future
AmerenIP had plans to erect a new 138KV transmission line right through the middle of the beautiful Fox River Valley. Over the course of the project planning, they showed little regard for the effects this would have on the largest natural resource in this community, the wildlife in this wonderful natural habitat, the families living in the area, and the safe operation of businesses along the route.
The Fox River Alliance never wished to stand in the way of progress. The planning for this line, however, was inconsiderate, ill advised, and, quite possibly, illegal. The Fox River Alliance has been able to get this process reviewed, and the line is now being moved to a better route. The Ameren plan is a horrible abuse of power and a dangerous example of corruption in state regulatory agencies. Completion of this project, as initially approved, is clearly not in the best public interest.
As of September 29, 2009, the Illinois Commerce Commission responded to public outcry and reopened this case for the route to be reconsidered. That gave us a well deserved legal avenue to make our case. With that, we have tried to insure fairness in the ultimate routing of this transmission line.
As of October 11, 2009, we hired John Sabuco, a very qualified environmental expert, who worked at half his regular rate because of the specifics of this case. We were asking for donations of any size to cover his costs, but we have now paid him in full, thanks to your generous contributions. No money is going to Fred, or any volunteer working on this project. Every volunteer is actually contributing money to the fund. Together, with your help, we came up with the money to pay our expert, so there is no longer a need to donate.
As of December 15, 2009, with our short extension granted, we submitted convincing evidence on our behalf. I went as far as proposing a low impact route that leaves the Ottawa substation to the west along an industrial corridor and then north across largely open farm fields to join the already approved LaSalle Wedron transmission corridor. One variation of this route avoids every home by more than 200 feet. In contrast, previously proposed Ameren routes came close to 80 to 155 homes. We still believe that this proposed route would have met all the needs of AmerenIP, while having a minimal impact to the Fox River Valley, the local residents, and indeed, the entire community. This idea was first proposed by the Ottawa city engineer, David Noble, back in April of 2007. Ameren ignored evidence that this would be a suitable alternative to their high impact routes. We thought we had the unusual oppurtunity to enter this route concept into consideration. We thought, that with proper deliberation, the Illinois Commerce Commission would approve a route that is substantially similar to the “Smith ALT#2B Route”, which has shown to have a number of advantages over other routes under condsideration.
However, as of February 2, 2010, the Illinois Commerce Commission ruled that the only routes under consideration were the original Ameren primary route along IL 71 and the Revised-Stipulated route along the Fox River. I tried to improve on the Ameren routes, but I was denied by the Commission, due to concerns about the length of the required proceedings. If the “IL 71 Resistors” had worked with us, as we proposed, this might have been different. If the “IL 71 Resistors” had championed a better route, we may not have ever got to this point. The city of Ottawa dropped the ball on this third route, as well. I tried my best to support the best interest of the Ottawa/Dayton community, but the other parties made that difficult, at best.
A note of concern from Kirk:
I will say that the westerly route would not have been without controversy. It would have been objectionable to at least two land developers. However, because the objectional part of the route was very short, actually well under 1 mile, the cost to mitigate their concerns would have been workable. That is to say, burial of the line or rerouting that small portion would have been less costly than any of the possible options to help mitigate landowner concerns along the IL 71 route. I do not to pretend to represent the best interests of any individual landowner, but I think the westerly route would have represented the best interests of the overall community. It is unfortunate that someone with the “IL 71 Resistors” decided that their best strategy was to champion a vastly inferior route along the Fox River. Had they, from the beginning, proposed alternate routes similar to the “Smith Alt#2” routes, it would have been virtually impossible to get the case reopened to reconsider this route. I feel concerned for the individuals that will be affected by the route along IL 71, for trusting the advice of whoever designed this ill fated strategy.
As of March 22, 2010, the judge accepted all of our evidence. As of April 12, 2010, we submitted all of our initial briefs, summarizing our positions to be read by the judge. As of April 26, 2010, we submitted all of our reply briefs, with responses to the other briefs. As of May 17, 2010, Judge Albers proposed a ruling that is clearly in our favor and goes as far as to admonish Ameren for their behavior in this matter.
Ameren did not file an Exception Brief. Instead, they tried to explain/apologize in a letter to the judge. Barring bizarre unforseen issues, we expected the matter to go before the Illinois Commerce Commission during their Open Meeting on Tuesday, June 29, 2010. Judge Albers filed a memorandum with the Commisson to expedite the matter, and they took time in their Wednesday, June 23, Bench Session in Springfield, to rule in our case. Despite our unintended lack of attendence, the commission ruled heavily in our favor, approving Judge Albers proposed order, word for word.
It is not likely that anyone can mount a valid appeal to this decision. However, we remain vigilant, and ready to respond to any further legal actions in this case. This is not just about one person or one business. This is about an entire river valley and the people and businesses along this beautiful natural setting. Please sign up for Our Mailing List for timely updates and notices about any possible further developments in our case.
The focus of these meetings was on coordinating testimony from several individuals.
Judge Albers established an initial schedule for the case, giving us until November 30 to present our case, in the form of written evidence. By December 22, Ameren agreeded to respond to that testimony. On January 5, 10AM, in Springfield, another status hearing was held to determine the remaining schedule, including deadlines for staff input and scheduling of evidenciary hearings where all witnesses could be cross examined. This schedule was extended a few weeks, but it was still challenging to meet. We did get everything in on schedule and, Ameren responded with burdensome data requests, seeming to try to wear us down. We responded on schedule, and at that point, it would seem, Ameren realized that they should no longer burden us, since we were likely to win and result in the choice of their original favored route.
Incredible thanks to the 100+ people that showed up to support our position. Five people made statements, limited to 3 minutes each (Twila Yednok, Kirk Smith, Matthew Nelson, Katie Trocolli, & Fred Morelli). The commission decided to, on their own motion, unanimously, reopen this case for further consideration. This was a HUGE victory, and simply allowed us to make a compelling argument, in the further proceedings. This was the first big step in saving the river valley, but the hard work continued.
September 29, 2009 - Please don't send any more letters.
We won this battle
Now that the Ottawa City Council has withdrawn from their agreement, more legal proceedings are under way. This was the time to write letters for maximum impact. At this point, please hold off on letters. We won at the Illinois Commerce Commission.
Due, in large part, to unprecedented attendance by Fox River Alliance members, the Dayton Township Board passed a resolution opposing the power line route down the Fox River Valley.
The Ottawa City Council voted on a resolution to withdraw their support of the agreement that allowed Ameren to get approval for this route. They voted unanimously in favor of this new resolution. With this resolution in hand, it was much more likely that the Illinois Commerce Commission would reopen the case, and pending court cases would have a greater chance of succeeding. This was not the end of the process, but it was a really good start.
Kevin Kanaski represented the Fox River Alliance at the Friends of the Fox board meeting. They agreed that this would be an ecological disaster, among other things. We pursued more contacts with them, and their representative, Geoff Petzel. Please support them at their website .
No decision at that time, but further arguments were presented. They were asked if they wanted to be the local officials that allowed the destruction of the Fox River Valley. Their support was pending.
Several council members were surprised to hear about how they were misled by the process that got them into the Stipulation Agreement. At this point, it was possible that they would overturn their decision.
Fred Morelli, Matt Nelson, and Kirk Smith met with Ameren attorney, Mr. Fitzgerald, and one other Ameren attorney. It was a cordial meeting, but there were no significant breakthroughs. Ameren was still convinced it would be in their best interest to build the lines along the approved route, despite our opposition. With time, we hoped to raise enough concern with the right courts and government agencies, where they may reconsider, but, at that time, that was a long way off. So, we continued to raise public awareness of this situation.
Ameren has a poor history with environmental issues, and this pending environmental disaster should be averted for the best interests of Ameren and our community. It took some time to convince them, but it was the right thing to do. We thank everyone for all the help in this process.
Fred Morelli made an excellent presentation. The council was asked to take a stand on this project, and everyone provided a lot of information to consider. They requested copies of the aerial photos, which they promptly received. Supervisor Phyllis seemed quite interested, as well as several board members.
I must believe that there have never been that many people at any Dayton Township board meeting in history. The estimated attendance was around 100 Daytonites, including many Skydive Chicago residents. Officially, the 2000 census puts Dayton at 1,685 residents total. This turnout was more than significant. THANKS TO EVERYONE that showed up. The visual impact of that many people seemed to make a difference in the reaction of the board.
Ottawa Mayor Bob Eschbach spoke about the planning process and expressed some willingness to help. He was not happy with any of the 3 routes that were considered, and spoke of a fourth westerly route, or even more unspecified routes. He rode the Illinois Railnet tracks earlier in the week, and saw, first hand, the path of intended destruction. He agreeded to bring the matter up to the Ottawa City Council. Fred prepared some talking points for him. This never guaranteed their support, but it was an encouraging first step with the city of Ottawa.