Wed July 24, 2013
State Supreme Court Decision May Change How Utilities And Government Buy Property
The Waller family took American Transmission Company (ATC) to court five years ago, after a large high-voltage transmission line was built on their small, Walworth County hobby farm. ATC bought the easements for the line, but the Wallers said the line made their entire property worthless. They eventually moved and wanted ATC to pay.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court decided that the line diminished the value and use of the land so much that ATC has to pay for the entire property. The company also has to reimburse the Waller’s legal fees and moving expenses.
The decision comes at a time when other high-voltage transmission line projects are in the works across the state. Land appraisals are underway in southwest Wisconsin, where the CapX2020 line will cross numerous properties from Alma to the La Crosse area.
University of Wisconsin-Madison law professor Thomas Mitchell says the decision could substantially change the law, since economics were not a major factor in previous cases.
“It certainly is likely that this decision will lead other private property owners to invoke this decision and to indicate that the economic impact to them outweighs the concern for protecting the public trust,” says Mitchell.
An ATC attorney said that if the court ruled against them, a little noise and visual nuisances could make utilities and other condemners, like the Department of Transportation, purchase entire properties and not just easements.
In an emailed statement, an ATC spokeswoman says the Supreme Court’s decision will likely lead to higher electricity bills.