6/22/2006

Bill targets eminent domain: Utica (NY) Observer-Dispatch, 6/20/06

By Elizabeth Cooper

A state Senator representing part of New York Regional Interconnect's proposed power line route has introduced legislation to block the privately-owned company from using eminent domain.

Senator John Bonacic, R-Mount Hope, had the bill printed Friday and it's now eligible to come up for a vote. Sen. Raymond Meier, R-Western, is a co-sponsor on the legislation. William Magee, D-Nelson, is cosponsoring the corresponding bill in the state Assembly.

If passed, the bill would strike a section of the state's Transportation Corporations Law that allows electric companies to use the power of eminent domain to take private land.

"We don't think that NYRI should be using state law is the basis for taking New Yorkers' property for their greed and benefit," Bonacic's counsel, Langdon Chapman, said. "It's not a public purpose if it raises rates upstate."

Power company spokesman Jonathan Pierce said New York Regional Interconnect was aware of the legislation.

"We are looking forward to having further substantive discussions on this matter," he said.

New York Regional Interconnect wants to put a 1,200-megawatt power line from Marcy to Orange County downstate. According to the company's application to the state's Public Service Commission, the plan would reduce energy costs downstate by as much as 28 percent, while increasing those costs upstate by up to 7 percent. Company officials have said they would use eminent domain to purchase land from any unwilling sellers along the 66-foot wide right-of-way they are planning to use.

One local resident, whose Clayville home is about 15 feet from the railroad tracks the right-of-way follows in Oneida County, said he likes Bonacic's idea but fears it wouldn't be enough.

"Just from some of the information I've read, the state has traditionally honored the eminent domain rights of private companies," he said. "I think the Supreme Court has supported that, so how effective this bill will be remains to be seen."

Chapman said states have the power to allow utilities to use eminent domain, and can take that power away.

"The state legislature has absolute authority to do it, and if it makes big energy unhappy we don't care, this is about people," he said.

Steven Anderson of the Institute for Justice, which represented homeowners whose property was taken by eminent domain when the city of New London, Conn., wanted to take their land in the interest of economic development, said to his knowledge, the state could adopt such a law if it wished.

"It's a matter of state law, if the state wants to change it I don't see any reason why they can't," he said.

But, he added, utilities have a long-standing history of using eminent domain for their projects.

Chapman said the language in the bill would apply to a range of other utilities, including ones like National Grid. A National Grid spokesman could not be reached for comment.

The legislature's session ends Thursday, which doesn't leave much time for the negotiations. Chapman declined to speculate as to whether it could be passed in that time frame.

Bonacic represents all of Delaware and Sullivan counties and parts of Ulster and Orange counties.


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