Q&A: Getting records from non-public agency


From South Bend Tribune:

Q: I am trying to acquire a list of the property owners in a swath of land in northern Indiana that gas and electric company NIPSCO is in the process of buying and having condemned through eminent domain for an easement to build a controversial power transmission line.

NIPSCO says such a list is not a public record. This is a private company but regulated by a governmental agency. It seems to me the list of land the utility is targeting should be public beyond just what I’ve been able to find as they’ve started to file condemnation suits in the various state courts. Any advice?

A: NIPSCO isn’t a public agency, so it’s not subject to the Access to Public Records Act. But any legal actions filed in court are available for copying and inspection.

As to the route for the transmission line, I suspect they would have to file something with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, and that would be a public record. It may be a map, and you would have to cross reference the map to county recorder records to determine property owners in the path of the new line.

I suggest you ask the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission for a list of documents that must be filed by a utility company before building a news transmission line. You could also try the Office of Utility Counselor, which is the public’s ombudsman before the regulatory commission.

Once you have a map of the route, you can work with the county recorder as to the best way to overlay with property ownership. Years ago when I was a reporter, most counties would publish a booklet with maps of each township that reflected ownership of parcels. I don’t know if that’s still the case, or it may have been replaced with a digital version.

Contact Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel, with media law questions at skey@hspa.com or (317) 624-4427.