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February 08, 2008

DM&E bill in S.D. = Schieffer vs Janklow

Here's some from an interesting AP story about the DM&E Railroad, eminent domain and South Dakota politics:

A South Dakota Senate committee has approved a bill aimed at speeding up state hearings on the Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railroad's application to acquire land by condemnation for its planned $6 billion expansion project.

The Transportation Committee voted 6-2 on Thursday to endorse the measure, but opponents said the bill could hurt landowners who believe DM&E is treating them unfairly.

DM&E President Kevin Schieffer said the railroad applied more than a year ago for state approval to use eminent domain to acquire land from people who are unwilling to sell. Opponents have been using delaying tactics to postpone a hearing, he said.

"We're not trying to change the rules of the game. We're just trying to get to the game, as opposed to the delay," Schieffer said.

But former Gov. and U.S. Rep. Bill Janklow, a lawyer representing landowners, said DM&E was responsible for much of the delay in holding a state hearing on its application for authority to use eminent domain. He said there is no need to change the law to speed up the process.

"They're changing the rules in the middle of the game. That's wrong. They're rigging it," Janklow said.

DM&E wants to rebuild 600 miles of existing track across South Dakota and Minnesota and add 260 miles of new track around the southern end of the Black Hills to reach coal fields in Wyoming. The Powder River Basin project would haul low-sulfur coal eastward to power plants.

DM&E, which was recently purchased by Canadian Pacific Railway, has said it already has negotiated deals to acquire land along the expansion route from some ranchers in southwestern South Dakota, but the railroad needs legal authority to use eminent domain to acquire land from those unwilling to sell.

A 1999 state law, passed at Janklow's urging when he was governor, provides that a railroad can use eminent domain if it can show a project is a public use consistent with public necessity. A key element is whether a railroad can show it has already negotiated in good faith to acquire land with the use of eminent domain.

In an eminent domain case, a court would decide what compensation a landowner would get.

State Transportation Secretary Darin Bergquist testified in favor of the bill, saying the state Transportation Commission has been frustrated by delays in the DM&E case. "The commission has been struggling with this and working on the pending matter for 16 months and is yet to hear a minute of testimony."

Janklow said the bill is not needed because the railroad's new owner, Canadian Pacific, has said it will not decide for a year or two whether to pursue the expansion project into the Wyoming coal fields.

Schieffer said the delay in the hearing on the eminent domain request is similar to other delays sought by project opponents during other proceedings since the project was started more than a decade ago.

"The name of the game here is kill it by delay," Schieffer said. "This is one piece of a bigger puzzle."


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No one should know more about "changing the rules of the game" than Janklow. Remember this is the guy that killed the Minnesota firefighter, then tried every conceivable ploy to get out of having to pay the consequences. I would trust him even less than Schieffer.

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