Court Zaps Idaho Falls' Plan to Build Power Lines

     (CN) - The City of Idaho Falls cannot use eminent domain to build power lines outside city limits, the 9th Circuit ruled Tuesday.
     The city in eastern Idaho planned to build the power lines as part of an electrical expansion plan first proposed in 1972 and reaffirmed in 2007. The proposed route for the lines, which would connect two power substations, is fully outside city limits.
     Idaho Falls Power offered to buy easements from the property owners whose land it needed to build the lines, but some owners rejected the offer.
     More than a dozen property owners challenged the city in court, claiming it overstepped its authority and violated their due-process rights by threatening to use eminent domain to get the easements.
     U.S. District Chief Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled that state law does not grant Idaho Falls the authority to condemn property outside city limits.
     The 9th Circuit agreed.
     "Municipalities in Idaho do not have the power to exercise eminent domain extraterritorially for the purpose of constructing electric transmission lines," Judge N. Randy Smith wrote for the three-judge panel.
     The court rejected the city's claim that the legal authority came from its mandate to provide electricity "at the lowest possible cost."
     "Ultimately, we must reject the city's attempt to find in this broad mandate additional powers the Legislature has not granted it elsewhere," Smith wrote.
     The panel also rejected the city's bid to have 9th Circuit certify the dispute to the Idaho Supreme Court.
     Applying that court's "clearly enunciated" principles "compels only one conclusion - the city has not been granted extraterritorial eminent domain power for the purpose of constructing electric transmission lines," Smith wrote.
     He also noted that the city had opted to remove the case to federal court and then declined the judge's offer to seek certification at that level.
     "Having made the choice to 'cast its lot' in the federal district court, the city-having lost there-is
     not entitled to 'a second chance at victory' through certification," he wrote.