Under the wire
When Dale and Helen Swanson got a certified letter in their mailbox last July inviting them to a meeting to discuss a proposed power line across their property, the elderly Clay County farm couple tried to come to terms with what it could mean for their future. Their son Paul received a similar letter. What concerned them most was the mention that if they didn’t voluntarily agree to sign a perpetual easement, the power line company, like it or not, could use the power of eminent domain to build the line across their property.
Neighbors who received the same letter began talking, and it was a matter of only a few weeks before the farmers directly affected by the line had organized to fight against the project.
The Swansons enlisted the help of their daughter, Carolyn Sheridan, a registered nurse in agricultural occupational health. Sheridan, who also owns farmland in Clay County with her husband, has many concerns, including the lack of adequate information for landowners on several topics, such as use of eminent domain and impacts on health. “RICL has stated repeatedly there are no health concerns with this line, but we continue to research evidence-based information about the chronic, long-term effects of power lines,” she says, “and the evidence is inconclusive.”
Sheridan is president of the Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance, a grassroots nonprofit group she helped organize to fight against Rock Island Clean Line’s proposed transmission line. She says people living along the proposed route have evolving concerns. “Initially, people were concerned about the line interfering with farming, human and livestock health, drops in land value, and whether RICL could really deliver what they were promising,” Sheridan says. “And they were very angry and concerned about not having any say in what could be placed on and over their land. As they’ve learned more about the project, they are questioning whether this project fits into the overall wind energy grid being developed in Iowa. They also object to the fact that none of the electricity produced here will be staying in Iowa to be used by Iowans.”
Land values affected
Appraiser Kurt Kielisch from Oshkosh, Wis., has researched studies that have been conducted on how land values are affected by transmission lines. He collected published studies available to the public and reviewed trade journals available to real estate professionals. “Some of the studies indicated that there was no measurable effect. However, there were a number of studies, mostly recent, that indicated there was a measurable effect, and that effect ranged from a loss of 10% to 30% of the overall property value,” he says.
Other studies found this data:
• A study of 22 agricultural and recreational land sales from 2002 to 2006 in Clark County, Wis., concluded that land sales with an electric transmission line sold for 23% less than comparable land sales without a transmission line.
• A study of 14 land sales in Marathon County, Wis. — five with transmission lines and nine without — concluded that when the power line traversed the property along the edge, such as a back fence line, the loss was as low as 15%. But when it bisected a large parcel, the loss was as high as 34%. The properties were all rural land, with either ag or residential land use.
• A study by the Electric Power Research Institute in 2003 that summarized research on power lines and land values showed mixed results, ranging from having no effect to a loss of 7% to 15%.
• An impact study of the effects of high-voltage power lines on rural property value in southwest Indiana — 32 land sales, 10 with power lines, from 2006 to 2009 — concluded the power lines negatively impacted the property by 5% to 36%, with the average being 20%.
Jim Sanders, a certified general appraiser in Tucson, Ariz., with extensive litigation experience, urges caution on references to power line studies. A specialist in statistical analysis, he says, “Many of the studies I’ve seen have been financed by power companies and appear to be flawed, but they don’t make the underlying data available. I’ve asked for the data, and they refuse to give it out.”
For more information on both sides of the proposed controversial line, see the RICL websiteand the alliance website at
Betts writes from Johnston.
¦ Land values are based on perception of potential buyers. No matter if the perceptions are correct or based on fact, buyers will shy away if they perceive health, safety, aesthetics, interference with farm operations, or other issues.
¦ Compaction from concrete trucks, cranes and other equipment used to construct the power line lasts for years. Power companies have historically not done a good job of correcting it.
¦ Forward-thinking farmers should consider the challenges multiple poles in a field might present to robotic and drone farming equipment. Power poles do interfere with farming operations; one Minnesota farmer timed his operations and found it took an extra 20 minutes per pole, per operation in the easement area. And, farmers have reported malfunctions of GPS systems at close range.
¦ Some states have redefined electric power restrictions of perpetual easements to allow power companies to replace old poles with larger poles under the existing easement, with no obligation to pay for further damages with the new construction.
¦ Agricultural spraying with aircraft under power lines is becoming a thing of the past; larger planes with little clearance and insurance requirements are the reasons. Tall towers, multiple lines and wide easements can restrict and sometimes eliminate the use of aerial spraying on parcels impacted by the power lines.
¦ Power lines can impact and even rule out future irrigation systems.
This article published in the April, 2014 edition of WALLACES FARMER.
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