Proposed easement for Ameren prompts discussion about legalities

PAXTON — The Paxton City Council debated at length a proposal to grant a transmission easement to Ameren Illinois on city right-of-way during its February meeting.

Although Alderman Eric Evans, chairman of the council’s city property committee, started the discussion by saying he “didn’t see anything wrong with granting the easement,” he said that Alderman Rob Pacey apparently had some concerns.

Pacey explained that he did not have any problem with granting the easement either, but he did “have some questions as to the process of how it was arrived at.”

“We’re potentially granting an easement without any knowledge of what’s being paid to other landowners there,” Pacey said. “It’s a pretty standard easement, and the dollar amount is $10 (to be paid to the city), which I believe is the minimum requirement for a substantial profit in Illinois.”

Alderman H.J. Flesner said that from his own experience, landowners allowing utility companies to have easements through their properties come with payments that greatly exceed $10.

“I had an easement on some property I had in Texas several years ago, and I got several thousand bucks for it,” Flesner said.

“That was one of my concerns,” Pacey responded. “A second concern is that (the easement is) essentially Vermilion Street extended, which ... is essentially the public right-of-way. We have ordinances that require the Illinois Commerce Commission to sign off and show that it’s a matter of public convenience (to request the easement), that they have to move the transmission line in the first place. Permits have to be filed, again by our own ordinance.

“The zoning board has not met on it,” Pacey continued. “We’re subject to the same zoning ordinances as any private citizen, whether it’s city property or not. So, again, I have no qualms with Ameren whatsoever, I just wonder why we’d be giving an easement without those questions being answered.”
City Attorney Marc Miller then pointed out that Ameren, if granted the easement being requested, has already agreed to release a different easement in exchange for that.

That prompted Pacey to ask: “Us granting them (an easement) and us giving up one, is that considered an exchange of property?”

Evans then responded: “You’re not giving up land.”

“I understand that,” Pacey responded, “but it’s still the right to use it. It’s an easement. It’s just a legal question. If it’s an exchange of property, we’d have to give public notice.”

Evans then said: “But technically we’re not exchanging property.”

Miller then chimed in: “We’re not conveying property. We’re conveying the easement. ... I agree with (Pacey’s) point of view, which is, ‘Well, we’re giving away a bundle of sticks. We’re not giving away all the sticks, but we’re giving some of them away.’ So it’s kind of like a property sale. It’s not like we’re leasing it to them. But I haven’t put tons of research into it.”

Pacey then asked Miller: “Would a lease of the easement be a better option?”

Miller responded: “It’s not something they would be interested in doing, I don’t think, but we could pursue it. I don’t think we’re talking about a very big easement here, but you got elected to decide how you want to handle it, to do it.”

Mayor Bill Ingold said the easement was being requested because Ameren had placed some utility poles in the wrong location by the Ludlow Cooperative grain elevator.

“They’re trying to square that up,” Ingold said. “They’re just trying to help us out.”

The proposed easement would allow Ameren to move its utility poles to the right locations. It would mean that Ameren’s power lines would be relocated from over the west side of the city’s building on U.S. 45 to over the east side of the building.

“There will be just a very small amount ... over the top of our building,” Ingold said. “It’s just an overhead wire that’s going over the top of our building. And we were never going to add a second story onto that building.”

Then, Pacey again raised questions.

“Again, my two questions are: It’s a piece of property that’s zoned. Is there a zoning issue? Because, again, we’re subject to the same zoning laws as everybody else. And secondly, if we had an ordinance written for utilities in the public right-of-way, why aren’t we using that power now?”

Both Pacey, Flesner and Alderman Rob Steiger then voiced their concerns again about the $10 payment proposed by Ameren.

“As H.J. points out, if it’s some farmer’s field, I guarantee it’s over 10 bucks,” Pacey said. “I have no problem granting (the easement), but we have a huge list of questions that haven’t been answered here.”

Added Steiger: “It’s worth more than 10 bucks. If I’m a private property owner, I’m going to get more than 10 bucks, I guarantee it.”

“I know the utility company’s going to tell you they’ll give you 10 bucks. Of course they’re going to tell you that,” Flesner added. “It’d be nice if I could tell them I’m going to pay them 50 cents for my electric bill.”

At Steiger’s suggestion, the proposal was tabled until the council’s March 13 meeting for possible approval.

Location (3):Local, Paxton, Ford County


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