Legal action was filed in the fall of 2016 over the Mark Twain Transmission Project

Marion County is officially no longer in the legal crosshairs of the Ameren Transmission Company of Illinois (ATXI).

Lyndon Bode, the county's presiding commissioner, learned late Friday and confirmed Monday morning that Ameren of Illinois has withdrawn all its lawsuits against Marion County concerning the utility company's Mark Twain Transmission Project.

“That's one part of the project that's over with,” said Bode.

The lawsuits against Marion County were filed in the fall of 2016 after the County Commission rejected a request from ATXI to allow it to cross county roads or use county roads during the course of constructing a planned power line project, which will extend from northern Marion County to Kirksville. In addition to Marion County, Ameren also took legal action against Knox, Shelby, Adair and Schuyler counties.

While the Public Service Commission (PSC) approved the permits necessary to undertake the project, it advised ATXI that it needed to secure permission from the impacted county commissions for use of the necessary county roads.

The Marion County Commission's attitude toward the project shifted last summer after a revised route was announced that will follow existing right-of-way that is owned by the Northeast Power Cooperative.

“The compromise that was reached last year to realign their power lines by working with Northeast Power was a great benefit,” said Bode on Tuesday. “I think it's been a good compromise between landowners, counties and utility companies.”

The County Commission granted its assent in a mid-August meeting last year. However, the commission's assent approval did not bring an immediate end to the lawsuit ATXI filed against the county a year earlier, according to the county's special counsel, D. Keith Henson.

“There is an agreement that we have entered into with ATXI, assuming that the assent is granted by the County Commission, dealing with the lawsuit,” he said shortly before the Commission voted to grant assent. “The lawsuit basically, as far as claims for damages against this county, will be gone if the assent is granted here today. Part of the lawsuit will remain for a period of time, but only until the PSC has looked at this proposed new route.”

According to Bode, it was just a matter of time before the legal action went away.

“Part of the agreement was to eventually drop these two cases they had filed against us. They have lived up to terms of the agreement,” he said. “The Public Service Commission has approved the project and now it's just a matter of letting Ameren of Illinois and Northeast Power do their work. When it comes time with the county roads we'll make sure things are taken care of.”

ATXI, which estimates it will be investing $250 million in the project, is planning to begin construction in May of this year. It is anticipated that the 100-mile, 345,000-volt transmission line will be ready to go into service by December 2019.

Reach reporter Danny Henley at danny.henley@courierpost.com