Last week, Texas-based Dakota Access LLC began filing paperwork with the Iowa Utilities Board identifying parcels of land on which it wants to secure easements to bury a crude oil pipeline under but has not reached agreements with the landowners.
The documents currently single out 31 properties in Story County and another 48 in Boone County — just two of the 18 counties through which Dakota Access wants to bury the pipeline, which it has said would transport up to 570,000 barrels of crude a day from oil shales in North Dakota to a hub in Illinois for further distribution.
The filings are a requirement in Dakota Access’ attempt to secure a hazardous liquid pipeline permit from the IUB. If that happens, the IUB could grant the company the power of eminent domain to bury the pipeline on the properties of unwilling landowners, although whether Iowa law grants the board the power to do so is under dispute.
“I don’t think there’s many uses that qualify for eminent domain, and I’m sure that running a private pipeline through Iowa — I’m convinced that doesn’t qualify at all,” said LaVerne Johnson, who owns land in Pilot Mound in Boone County which Dakota Access has identified in the documents.
In late July, Johnson appeared in Boone County District Court to resist an injunction sought by the company because he had refused contractors access to his land to conduct a survey.
Last Friday, District Court Judge John Haney ordered Johnson to allow the company to survey his land. At 8 a.m. the following Monday, Johnson said, they had already started.
“The court is not insensitive to Mr. Johnson’s concerns in permitting others to enter onto his land to conduct preliminary examinations as part of the pipeline application process, or for any other reason,” Haney wrote. “Unfortunately in his case, our Legislature has determined this activity is permissible and constitutes a public good.”
Johnson seemed unlikely to appeal the decision because of the court costs involved.
“The survey process is critical to the overall design of the project,” said Vicki Granado, a spokeswoman representing Dakota Access who added that the company has reached easement agreements for close to 65 percent of Iowa tracts on the pipeline’s route. “We are pleased with the judge’s decision that allows us to move forward and complete this survey.”
Instead, Johnson said he would probably be “hanging my hopes” on a lawsuit three landowners — including Dick Lamb, who owns land in Boone County just west of Ames that Dakota Access has identified — filed against the IUB last month in Cherokee County District Court. The lawsuit contends that because the pipeline would only pass through Iowa and not provide any public good to the state, the properties fall under an exemption in Iowa law stating that agricultural land cannot be taken for private development purposes.
Although it isn’t on the pipeline’s proposed route, Johnson also owns land in Calhoun County, where Dakota Access has filed suit against its Board of Supervisors after it passed a resolution creating additional county-level regulations for areas where the pipeline would cross drainage districts. The company filed a brief last month arguing that the regulations were “in some cases simply impossible, impractical, financially infeasible” and in violation of the IUB’s authority.
Several dozen opponents of the pipeline met with three IUB staff members Thursday evening in Des Moines to voice their concerns at a meeting organized by the activist group Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. They included Arlene Bates, a resident of Ankeny who, with her mother Leona Larson, owns farmland outside Cambridge in Story County identified in the Dakota Access documents.
Bates said her “whole family,” including two daughters who stand to one day inherit the land, has filed written objections to the project with the IUB, which it will review before deciding whether to grant Dakota Access the permit, possibly by late December or early January.
In Story County, Dakota Access is also seeking easements on properties that Iowa State University is using for research farms.
Warren Madden, executive vice president for business and finance at ISU, said administrators have had informal conversations with faculty in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences about the requests, including on the relative safety of transporting crude oil by pipeline versus by the railroad that runs by the campus.
But he said the university didn’t plan to make any recommendations to the Iowa Board of Regents, which would ultimately be in charge of a decision, until seeing whether the IUB grants the permit.
This article was written by Gavin Aronsen from Ames Tribune, Iowa and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.