Court case to test Minnesota’s ‘Buy the Farm’ law

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A case set for trial next week is
expected to test Minnesota’s "Buy the Farm" law, which is meant to
require utilities building high-voltage power lines to buy out farms in
the way if affected landowners demand it.
The case pits the
developers of the CapX2020 project against Cedar Summit Farm near New
Prague, which fills its old-school glass bottles on site and keeps its
cows on a 100 percent grass diet. Owners Dave and Florence Minar say
they can’t properly operate an organic dairy farm under a 345,000-volt
power line, so they’re trying to use the law to force CapX2020 to buy
their farm and pay the costs of relocating their operation.
The
case is one of dozens of land disputes arising from CapX2020, an
initiative by 11 utilities including Xcel Energy and Great River Energy
to expand and ensure the reliability of the region’s electrical grid.
The $2 billion project includes five new high-voltage lines covering
nearly 800 miles. A planned line from Brookings, S.D., to Hampton,
Minn., runs right over the Minars’ farm.
"Our whole business is at
stake," Dave Minar said Friday. "We don’t want to continue dairy
farming under high-voltage power lines."
They’re worried about
stray voltage, which can crop up on dairy farms when electricity leaks
from power lines and equipment. It can give cows small shocks that make
them shy away from their water and food or make them so skittish that
they’re hard to handle. It can reduce milk production and cause other
health problems in the animals.
"They’re saying we won’t have a problem, but I don’t believe them," Dave Minar said.
The
trial is scheduled for Wednesday through Friday before Scott County
District Judge Caroline Lennon in Shakopee. The Minars said they hope
their case will be bolstered by changes in the 1977 law that they helped
persuade the Legislature to adopt last year, as well as a recent
Minnesota Supreme Court decision applying the law in favor of other
property owners in the path of a CapX2020 line.
The Buy the Farm
law lists several criteria a landowner must meet to exercise an
"election" for a buyout and relocation costs. The Minars’ attorney, Rod
Krass, said they easily qualify even though the utilities claim the
Minars have not met any of the tests.
"Everything that can be
contested, they’re contesting," Krass said of the utilities. "And so
this has put incredible pressure and stress on this family. We’re not
understanding — given the Legislature’s obvious intent to protect people
like the Minars — why we’re having to go through all of this."
CapX2020
officials declined an interview request but issued a statement saying
the Minars aren’t eligible because their operation counts as commercial
land, and that only one transmission tower would be built on their land.
"Under
the statute, commercial land is not eligible for election. In addition,
the Supreme Court has held that a reasonableness requirement must be
read into the statute," the statement said. "The CapX2020 utilities have
challenged the reasonableness of this election because it involves only
one transmission structure that occupies less than one acre on a
132-acre property that includes a commercial dairy operation and retail
store."
Any compensation would be determined later. Even if they
win, the Minars said, relocating would be difficult. They would need
about 400 relatively contiguous acres not much farther from the Twin
Cities than their current farm because that’s where most of their
customers are, Florence Minar said. They’re not sure if they could find
that much land that’s already certified as organic. If it’s not, it
would take three years to get conventional farm land certified.
Cedar
Summit Farm milk and other products are sold at most natural food
stores in the Twin Cities area and some other outlets around the region,
as well as at farm itself. Dave Minar said they had to work hard for 12
years to get shelf space in all the stores, and he doesn’t think they’d
get most of it back if they were out of business for three years.
"We didn’t ask for this power line. It’s taken a chunk out of our lives for the last four or five
years," he said.
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