Legislation Ensures Family Farmers are Promptly & Fairly Compensated for Relocation Due to CapX2020 Power Line

Dahle & Bly Champion 'Buy the Farm'
Provisions in Last 2 Days of Legislative Session

SAINT PAUL, Minn. — An important clarification to Minnesota's groundbreaking "Buy the Farm" law was passed by the state Legislature on Monday, the last day of the 2013 session.

“Keeping the Buy the Farm law strong says that Minnesotans value family farmers above profits for energy conglomerates," said Dave Minar of Cedar Summit Farm near New Prague, Minn. “Our future as a fourth-generation family dairy farm was in jeopardy because Xcel Energy and others were trying to twist the law. This clarification means farmers will be treated fairly.”

Under the unique “Buy the Farm” law, which was originally passed in 1977, farmers have the right to require that utility companies purchase their entire farm if high voltage power lines are going to pass through their property. This law was intended to require that utilities reimburse farmers for their land, relocation expenses and lost business. The law was a result of the hard fought negotiations between farmers and utility companies over high power transmission lines cutting across farmland in the 1970s.

With the construction of more than 650 miles of new high voltage power lines across Minnesota underway, the law has renewed importance to family farmers and landowners throughout the state. Backers of the CapX2020 power line project, which includes Xcel Energy and 10 others, are trying to avoid paying their fair share to family farmers impacted by the project, said Land Stewardship Project organizer Mike McMahon.

"In an attempt to blur the intent of the law, they are claiming that farmers are voluntarily relocating their farms and that any reimbursements for moving expenses and lost business would be extra compensation," said McMahon.

The “Buy the Farm” provisions passed Monday clarify this issue, making it clear that farmers will receive compensation for moving and lost business, according to McMahon.

After stalling in conference committee, the "Buy the Farm" clarification was amended onto a bill on the Senate floor Sunday night and passed on the House floor Monday. It passed off the Senate floor on a 49-16 vote and off the House floor by a 114-18 vote.

Representative David Bly (DFL-Northfield) and Senator Kevin Dahle championed the "Buy the Farm Law" provisions from the beginning, and were key players in keeping them alive during the waning days of the session.

“When I heard that CapX was claiming that protections passed in 2010 concerning land takings under eminent domain did not apply to the Buy the Farm provision, and when I listened to the stories of dairy farmers like Julie Schwartz and Dave Minar, it was clear that refining this law could make the difference in whether or not they would continue to farm," said Bly. "That’s why getting Buy the Farm done this session was a priority for me.”

Dahle said that this bill strengthens legislation related to this issue that he passed in 2009.

“Corporations that skirt the law not only inconvenience us, but they can possibly put us in danger," he said. "The changes we’ve authored will further protect the rights of local farmers by closing loopholes and holding big companies accountable to the law.”

The bill had stalled in the Senate when key committee chairs refused to act on the proposal. Sen. Ron Latz (DFL–St. Louis Park), Chair of the Judiciary Committee, refused to hear the bill, making it unable to progress as a stand-alone piece of legislation. In the House, the provisions completed the committee process and were included as part of the House Environment and Agriculture Omnibus Finance Bill.

However, in conference committee Sen. David Tomassoni (DFL–Chisholm), the Senate Chair of the Conference Committee, refused to accept the language. By amending the language onto a bill on the Senate floor, Dahle was able to overcome these procedural roadblocks. Among the handful of Senators voting "no" were Dan Sparks (DFL-Austin), Chair of the Senate Agriculture Policy Committee, and Tomassoni, Chair of the Environment and Agriculture Finance Committee.