In Montana, All Your Land Are Belong To Us


According to its architects, the Montana Alberta Tie line (MATL), which is “a 214-mile (345-kilometer), 230-Kilovolt transmission line” that will connect wind turbines in Northern Montana and southern Alberta :

will run from a substation outside of Lethbridge, Alberta to one near Great Falls, Montana. It will allow much-needed energy flow in both directions, ensuring more reliable supplies of electricity which will make both Montanans and Albertans less vulnerable to power outages.

Or at least it should. The problem is that the builders, Tonbridge Power, have run out of money. Having whistled through a $161 million loan from the American federal government, Tonbridge would like another $25 million. Oh, and your land.

If it does not worry you that American taxpayer dollars are funding the construction project of a company headquartered in Toronto, the exercise of eminent domain here certainly should. When the project was halted in December 2010, as the result of a successful eminent-domain appeal in Montana, the state government simply enacted HB198 to bypass the judgement. This was perilously close to being a bill of attainder, the likes of which are prohibited by the United States constitution. Nonetheless, the act confirmed that:

a public utility as defined in 69-3-101 may acquire by eminent domain any interest in property, as provided in Title 70, chapter 30, for a public use authorized by law to provide service to the customers of its regulated service.

Even if ‘public utility’ means a private, for-profit Canadian energy corporation. MATL lost no time in using their new law to file eminent domain against another 33 landowners, through whose land their cables need to run. Those in Montana who expected the state Republican party to be on their side were sorely disappointed. According to the local Helena Independent Record:

“I understand if something is not done in the next week they are going to send workers home,” said Rep. Ken Peterson, the Billings Republican carrying the bill. “What message will that send to anyone who wants to do business in Montana?”

Um . . . perhaps that “doing business in Montana” and “taking people’s land against their will” are not one and the same? As long as this law remains — excepting a miracle in the courts — the state of Montana has given carte blanche to any energy company (seemingly even foreign ones) to remove the land of the state’s citizens when and where they see fit.


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