Around eighteen months ago, Judge Day asked my Grandpa to be on a Condemnation Commission, along with five other individuals. “Condemnation Proceedings usually happen when there is property that is owned by private individuals (typically landowners) and that property is needed to be used for the betterment of the public.” It would be like if someone’s property was needed to make maybe a county road, state or interstate, it’s needed to make life easier for others, but then that individual is out of the land that they just owned. Usually people don’t want to give up their land, so a Condemnation proceeding happens, which basically allows the government, whether it be county, state, or the federal government, to take the property and to use it, for maybe a highway or a utility line, “Which is what we’ve been sitting on this last year: the transition line that moves power from a generating plant to another area… where it’s used by consumers.”

What are the ATC Power lines and why are they a problem?

The American Transmission Company (ATC) power lines are a 100+ mile high-voltage transmission line, running from Dubuque to Dane County. It is needed by many people and it is a great idea because it will provide energy to people in places where they are currently lacking it. The only problem with the ATC is that it will need to go through people’s land; land that they will not be able to use to grow crops, trees, or just own themselves. This seems unfair to many people, and they feel like they need to be compensated for the land they lost, and that’s where my Grandpa’s Commission steps in.

What is a Condemnation Commission and who gets to be a part of it?

A Condemnation Commission is a group that is appointed by the county Judge. Every county has one. Grant County has six, but if the population of a county is over 100,000, then the commission would be made of 9 members. “And not all the members would sit in on a hearing, for this purpose, for example, in our county you have to have at least 3 of the 6 commissioners sit in on the proceedings that determine the value and the compensation the landowner gets for that property.”

The members of the Commission weren’t just drawn at random. They have a few bankers, people that deal with real estate, and some people that deal with agriculture, such as my grandpa. They have the skills needed to make the right decisions in many of these cases.

Another thing to keep in mind is this Commission doesn’t always deal with land being permanently taken. Sometimes the land is leased for a specific amount of time. “So if the power company wants to put some lines in and it’s something that’s really needed to provide power for people all over the state, (and) if the landowner doesn’t want to agree to what the power company is willing to pay for the lease of that property, then we sit in and hear both sides of the story.” What they do is help determine how the landowner will be compensated for the use of their property and the loss of their property.

The amount of compensation given depends on the type of land and what it is going to be used for. For example, if it’s really good cropland, the farmer won’t be able to use that land, so they are going to be compensated more dollars per acre than if the land was pasture or some type of rough land that doesn’t have as much value. “How the price is determined is kind of bargained by both parties, but the commission and the parties will find one or more people to put a value on that land. It’ll be someone who is probably involved in Real Estate and has a lot of experience in putting value on land depending on what its use is.” This person will look at the prices at the land in the surrounding area and use the price of similar looking land to give a value to the land the owner has. They use that value to determine how much the power company has to compensate the landowner. The Committee is taking into account what the land was planned to be used for, and uses that information to help determine the amount of compensation that the landowner receives.

The Condemnation Commission gets no clout and is an overlooked, yet important part of many disputes that happen in our county.