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Missouri tightens eminent domain protections for agricultural land

State Rep. Mike Haffner, R-Pleasant Hill, along with other politicians and members of Missouri's agricultural community, address changes to eminent domain on May 12, 2022
Rachel Lippmann
St. Louis Public Radio
Rep. Mike Haffner, R-Pleasant Hill, answers questions Thursday about legislation that would make it harder for private companies to buy agricultural land in the state for power lines.

Despite an early end to the 2022 legislative session, Missouri lawmakers were able to pass some of their priorities, including changes to the way electrical companies can use eminent domain.

Under the measure on the desk of Gov. Mike Parson, a private company that uses eminent domain to take land to build a transmission line must pay the landowners at least 150% of fair market value. Any power line constructed in Missouri will have to provide electricity to a certain number of residents in the state, based on how long the line is. And if a project does not receive financial commitments within seven years of using eminent domain, the land is returned to the owner.

“We embrace economic development, especially when it comes to improving our electrical grid,” said Rep. Mike Haffner, R-Pleasant Hill, the measure’s sponsor. “But we will not do it on the backs of Missouri farmers, ranchers and the Missouri agricultural industry."

Haffner’s bill is in response to a long fight over the Grain Belt Express, a transmission line for wind power that will stretch across 200 miles of northern Missouri. Efforts to stop construction of the line completely have been ongoing since 2019, when Invenergy Transmission, the company building the line, received permission to use eminent domain.

The new restrictions, however, will not affect Grain Belt — they apply only to projects that submit applications to the state after Aug. 28.

“This is a forward-looking bill,” Haffner said. “It corrects problems in the statute that were exacerbated by Grain Belt.”

While the proposal received some bipartisan support in the state House, other Democrats like Rep. Tracy McCreery, D-Olivette, said the measure did not go far enough.

“True eminent domain reform would affect homeowners and people that own property besides agricultural property,” she said. “A lot of people in this state do not own agriculture property.”

Haffner said he is willing to look at the sections of eminent domain law that affect cities.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.