POCATELLO — The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said Tuesday that the city of Idaho Falls cannot use eminent domain to condemn easements on property located outside city limits for the purpose of running electric transmission lines.
“The panel held that municipalities in Idaho do not have the power to exercise eminent domain extraterritorially for the purpose of constructing electric transmission lines,” U.S. Judge N. Randy Smith wrote in the decision. “The panel affirmed the district court’s summary judgment in an action brought by property owners.”
According to the decision, Idaho Falls Power, a utility owned by the city that serves more than 22,000 residents and nearly 4,000 businesses in Idaho Falls, has been seeking to complete a power system expansion plan first conceived in 1972 and re-affirmed in 2007.
As part of that plan, Idaho Falls Power is seeking to construct a new substation north of the city and run transmission lines that would arc the north side of Idaho Falls, running between the west and east sides just outside city limits. Tuesday’s decision is specific to the building of the transmission lines.
To build those transmission lines, Idaho Falls Power must get easements from property owners living outside the city limits. The utility first attempted to purchase those rights, but was rejected by an alliance of several of those property owners working together under the entity, Alliance for Property Rights and Fiscal Responsibility.
In his decision, Smith writes that the alliance of property owners sought relief in state court in March 2012, alleging the city had threatened to condemn the easements if members of that alliance would not sell. The alliance of owners argued that the city had no authority to condemn property outside its boundaries for the purpose of building transmission lines.
The city of Idaho Falls successfully motioned to have the case moved from state court to federal court. It was there that Chief U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill found in favor of the alliance of owners in September 2012, ruling that Idaho law did not grant the city power to condemn property outside is boundaries.
The city of Idaho Falls appealed the decision.
In the decision, Smith wrote that a city or municipality in Idaho, “has only those powers either expressly or impliedly granted to it.”
He goes on to write that because those powers to use eminent domain outside its city limits for the purpose of constructing transmission lines have not been specifically bestowed upon municipalities by the state, and that it cannot be fairly perceived as an implied power, and that it is not essential to the city of Idaho Falls’ “objects and purposes,” the city does not have the power to condemn the property.
Eminent domain continues to be a hot topic throughout the Gem State in recent years. During the 2013 legislative session, Sen. Jim Guthrie, R-McCammon, introduced legislation that would have banned using eminent domain to acquire property through eminent domain for the purpose of building alternative transportation paths, including greenways.
That bill, however, did not make it out of the Senate’s Local Government and Taxation Committee, being shelved on a 5-4 vote.
The city of Pocatello failed in its 2012 bid to use eminent domain to acquire property needed for the construction of the South Valley Connector. That attempt ended up in front of Sixth District Judge Robert Naftz who ruled that the city had failed to negotiate in good faith regarding the purchase price of 4.54 acres of land.
The city did ultimately purchase that land.