Landowners, MATL reach compromise

By Karl Puckett, Great Falls Tribune
   Developer Tonbridge Power Inc. announced last week that it has successfully negotiated settlements with four Montana landowners who had objected to its Montana Alberta Tie Line transmission project.
   “What it means is there are no further holdups for construction of this line in the state of Montana,” said Richard Opper, director of the state Department of Environmental Quality.
   The settlement clears up oppositions in Montana, but a group of Alberta landowners continues to fight plans for the $140 million transmission line, which would  connect the electricity markets of Canada, at Lethbridge, and United States, in Great Falls.
   Wind farm developers need transmission to ship power to out-of-state markets, have sited projects along the line, but some landowners objected to the diagonal placement of poles and the use of H-frame poles.
   If response, MATL, reduced the number of miles of diagonal crossings and replaced some  of the H-frames with single poles.
   “Now we can proceed with the project without being pugnacious,” Toronto-based Tonbridge CEO Johan van’t Hof said of the Montana settlements.
   In a special meeting March 6, the Montana Board of Environmental Review, with which the appeals were filed, was expected to formally dismiss the landowners’ appeals.
   About 130 miles of the 203-mile line would cross Montana farmland. van’t Hof said getting support from every landowner has been an unfair “test of unanimity,” but he added that the company has tried to negotiate agreements, as opposed to being “pushy” and beginning construction without them.
   “This means we weren’t being strident,” he said.
   The appealing landowners were Chris Stephens of Dutton; neighbors Jerry McRae and Katrina Wilson Martin, also of Dutton, who filed a joint appeal; and Michael and Donald Koenig of Conrad.
   Michael Koenig referred comments to Norman Grosfield, a Helena attorney representing the family in the dispute.
   “We’ve come to a resolution that is satisfactory to my client,” Grosfield said, adding a confidentiality agreement prevented any further comment.
   The other landowners weren’t immediately available for comment.
   van’t Hof said confidentially agreements have been signed in each case but, in general, the appeals involved placement of the poles and the use of diagonal crossings over farmland.
   The settlements did not involve any  payments except that the company agreed to pay the landowners’ legal fees, van’t Hof said.
   Last week, MATL. said appeals of the project were partly responsible for a five-month delay in construction of the transmission line.
   Construction, which was scheduled to being this month, has been pushed back to the fall.
   The Alberta Court of Appeals heard an appeal of the project by property owners in Alberta in January. A decision is pending.
   “If the court finds something that needs to fixed up, we’ll go fix it up,” van’t Hof said.
   Bob Williams of Montana Alberta Tie Ltd., a Tonbridge Power Inc. subsidiary, said individual negotiations with Montana landowners over easements and mitigating  the impact of the line would pick up once the Court of appeals case is settled.
   The 500-foot corridor that’s been authorized in Montana gives the company flexibility in the final centerline location, he said.
   The transmission line will run through four Montana counties; Glacier, Pondera, Teton and Cascade. Between 45 and 52 miles of the transmission poles will be in Pondera County.
   Taxes to the county have been estimated to be between $1,038,970 on the low side too possibly as high as $1,182,684.