Legislature Puts Corporate Bailout Above the Interests of Montana Landowners

by jhwygirl

This is a press release from the Northern Plains Resource Council and the Northern Plains Pipeline Landowners Group regarding today’s Senate 2nd reading vote on HB198, the 62nd Legislature’s eminent domain bill.

Northern Plains Resource Council, a grassroots conservation and family agriculture group since 1972, strongly condemned actions by the Montana State Senate on Tuesday to pass HB 198, the session’s eminent domain reform bill, on a second reading floor vote. A majority of Democrats joined with Republicans to vote in favor of the bill. The bill had previously been stalled in committee on a 6-6 vote until it was blasted onto the Senate floor this morning on a 26-23 vote.

Northern Plains members, many of whom are landowners facing condemnation themselves, have fought HB 198 for most of the session. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Ken Peterson (R-Billings), would clarify a public utility’s right to condemn private land for corporate use. Buried in the bill is a retroactivity clause that will set a dangerous precedent for landowners in Montana. Northern Plains calls this bill what it is – a corporate bailout.

“The members of the Montana Senate who voted in favor of this bill had a chance to stand up for landowners and the interests of rural Montana today; instead, they caved to the bottom line of one corporation, granting them the biggest corporate bailout of the session,” said Darrell Garoutte, Chair of the Northern Plains Pipeline Landowners Group. This group of landowners crossed by the proposed Keystone XL pipeline in eastern Montana has organized to negotiate with TransCanada an equitable contract which protects landowners and public safety.

“This bill is about one corporation, Tonbridge Power Inc., that treated landowners dishonestly, lost in district court, and, rather than going through the appellate court system like any other citizen of this state, came to the legislature with its hands wide open threatening legislators with alarmist claims and rhetoric. It certainly sets a dangerous precedent for landowners moving forward, and folks in rural Montana will remember this vote.”

HB 198 arose out of a district court decision issued in December in Glacier County where Tonbridge Power of Toronto is building the 214-mile Montana Alberta Tie Line. The judge halted construction of the power line, ruling that the project did not meet the public need test and therefore did not have the power of eminent domain. HB 198 effectively reverses the decision and puts the landowners in the project’s path in the crosshairs. Parties in the case filed arguments with the Montana Supreme Court last week, promising that a decision will be reached soon by the state’s highest court.

“We in the agricultural sector take this as a personal affront to our ability to do business in Montana, and the economic hardship of stealing our land. If you take something from me and give it to somebody else, it is stealing. This will put us in a position where we cannot deal fairly with anyone trying to use eminent domain. We are simply asking for respect and fairness. This bill sets a grave precedent for those of us that make a living on the land in this state,” said Garoutte.

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  1. Q

    “Buried in the bill is a retroactivity clause…”

    Can you “burry” something in a bill that is barely over one page in length?

    See the bill for yourself > http://data.opi.mt.gov/bills/2011/billpdf/HB0198.pdf

    • The whole bill is a prostitute for Tonbridge and Northwestern Energy.

      The first defense of this bill was that “it doesn’t change a thing.” Really? Why have the bill?

      They key factor that proponents want to ignore is that the public uses enumerated under Title 70 and public uses that benefit the citizens of Montana.

      This bill ignores any such requirement.

      If the public benefit is for Canada and for California, then maybe the Feds should be doing the condemning?

      They can. Obviously. But clearly, it doesn’t meet their criteria of a sufficient public benefit.

      As for the “buried clause” that’s an added bonus prostitution of the bill, put in there to care of the failed negotiations of Tonbridge that now sit in court.

  2. MontanaSwan

    “It certainly sets a dangerous precedent for landowners moving forward, and folks in rural Montana will remember this vote.”
    I lifted this comment because this same Senate has voted down funding for the elderly and disabled folks across the state of Montana. I guess they feel they nor their family members will ever become elderly or disabled. This legislature is not about helping the residents of Montana–it is purely partisan politics w/ no compassion or empathy whatsoever.




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