IDAHO FALLS, Idaho - Friday marked a major turning point in the Idaho Falls North Loop Project. A U.S. District Court judge handed a victory to landowners by ruling that the city does not have the right to use eminent domain outside its limits for electric power purposes.
"We weren't surprised. We were satisfied with the decision," said Bryon Reed, co-chair of the Alliance for Property Rights, or APR.
The decision didn't even require a trial. Summary judgment was granted in favor of APR.
"We felt like, from the beginning, that the city was outside their legal authority," said Reed.
The group of about 130 people was formed in opposition to the project. The city's utility, Idaho Falls Power, wants to enhance its transmitting capacity by building new facilities and installing more lines on the east and west sides of town. But those lines would run on county property.
"It would stop the use of aerial spraying," said Reed.
It would also destroy trees and property values, he said.
The group filed a motion in federal court in June. It was a step they had been trying to avoid.
"We regret now that those expenses are going to have to be borne by city ratepayers and taxes," said Reed.
But, Reed said, the city was trying to use eminent domain legislation to buy easements from owners. It was authority he said they didn't have.
And on Friday, a judge agreed, explaining in the 16-page decision that the city cannot condemn property outside its limits.
"They have said they would appeal, but it seems this would be difficult to appeal," said Reed. "It was quite decisive."
Reed said the group understands the city's power needs, but he also said there are plenty of other options that would have far less impact on property owners.
"To take different routes, such as the freeway corridor," said Reed. "They can bury it, which many of the landowners here have offered easement if buried."
A spokesperson for Idaho Falls said the city is reviewing the court's decision and will decide how to move forward next week.