When it comes to the planned Grain Belt Express electricity transmission line that will pass through Barton County, there is not much county officials can do about it, Environmental Manager Judy Goreham told the County Commission during a Wednesday morning study session.
She referenced a section of the zoning regulations. “It gives us zero control over this project because it is exempt.” Exemptions include infrastructure maintained by any public utility, such as power lines. “There is nothing zoning-related we can do,” she said.
“There will be people in here talking to you about that,” said Jim Welch. He is a member of the Barton County Planning Commission and accompanied Goreham during Wednesday’s meeting.
The line, being developed by Invenergy, Chicago, Ill., will carry wind-generated energy from Ford County to states farther east. Phase I of the project consists of an approximately $7 billion, 530-mile-long high-voltage direct-current transmission line between Ford County in Kansas and Monroe County, Mo., with work expected to begin by the end of next year.
The Kansas Corporation Commission gave its nod to the 380-mile Kansas portion in 2019.
The proposed transmission route runs west of Great Bend and north, following U.S. 281 to just south of Russell, where it will jog east of that city. The transmission lines will run through private property.
The project dates back a decade when the company first approached Barton County officials with the idea.
“I happened to be at the County Commission meeting the day they came and presented,” Goreham said. “And I remember a handful of people here in extreme opposition because it was going to affect their oil production. It was going to affect their farming capability.”
Commissioners were concerned the property owners impacted by the line’s path may not have access to their land.
According to Grain Belt spokesman Ron Gillett, the company will seek to purchase easements from the owners based on fair market value or better. The owners’ ability to farm or pump oil should not be affected, except building new structures might be a problem.
However, Gillett said, should easement negotiations fail, it would go into condemnation process. “It could wind up in court. But that is the very last resort.”
While Grain Belt maintains it is willing to work with landowners, some area residents question this.
“So I think when this comes up again, you’re going to have that same push-back,” Goreham said. “But zoning isn’t the answer because we can’t do anything about it.”
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Loan Programs Office held public “scoping meetings” at the end of January and into February (including one in Great Bend) as it prepares the Environmental Impact Statement for the Grain Belt endeavor.
Phase II would extend the line from Missouri into Indiana, south of Terre Haute. A timeline has not been announced.