By Paul Snyder
A family that sold its land for a transmission line right of way has picked up momentum in a lawsuit seeking more money from American Transmission Co. LLC.
Scott and Lynnea Waller sued ATC over the company’s offer for the Wallers’ land, and a state appellate court Wednesday kept the argument alive.
The District II Court of Appeals did not determine if Pewaukee-based ATC owes the Wallers more than the $90,000 they received for their Delavan property, but the appellate court required a circuit court make the decision.
“It’s awesome to hear,” Scott Waller said. “I understand the need for power lines, and I like electricity as much as the next guy. But pay me for the land. Be fair about it.”
ATC spokeswoman Anne Spaltholz said only that the company believes the court’s decision is procedural, and attorneys are reviewing the decision.
Mark Steichen, a lawyer with Madison-based Boardman, Suhr, Curry & Field LLP who is representing ATC in the case, did not return calls for comment Wednesday.
With plans to build a 139-kilovolt transmission line through the Delavan area, ATC in March 2008 approached the Wallers about buying a 45-foot-wide easement from their 1.5 acres of property, on which the Wallers lived and operated a farm, according to court documents.
Waller rejected ATC’s $99,500 offer, saying he and his wife needed more for their move and because the transmission line the company would build on the land would make the rest of his property undevelopable.
The ATC project put a transmission pole and a distribution pole on the property in addition to the power lines.
Waller said he had no plans to develop the land, but the poles sent the property value plummeting. Assessors hired by ATC and the Wallers agreed the land would have little value for development.
ATC has insisted the land can be developed, according to court documents.
The state Department of Commerce requires a company pay to help people move if the land it buys cannot be developed. According to another state law, if a company’s project results in “uneconomic remnant,” or property left with no value after the project, the company has to pay back the loss in value. Waller said the moving costs, combined with the loss in value, means ATC owes $100,000 more than the $90,000 it already paid.
According to court documents, ATC offered the Wallers $132,000 if they agreed to waive their right for moving assistance. But the Wallers rejected the offer.
Ultimately, the Walworth County Condemnation Commission ordered the land be condemned and that ATC pay the Wallers $90,000, according to court documents. They took the money and moved to Sharon.
But Waller said when the case was presented to a circuit court in November, a judge dismissed the case on the grounds it could not be connected to the state’s “uneconomic remnant” law.
The appellate court Wednesday disagreed.
The legal fees attached to the case already have cost Waller more than the additional $100,000 he and his wife want from ATC. But he said principle is more important than price.
“But someone has to stand up to these guys,” he said. “I guess it’s just my turn.”