Government

Iowa landowners oppose Bakken pipeline forcibly crossing their property

Attorney Bill Hanigan of the Des Moines-based Davis Brown Law Firm answers questions Wednesday at a news conference with
Attorney Bill Hanigan of the Des Moines-based Davis Brown Law Firm answers questions Wednesday at a news conference with a group of Iowa landowners who have brought legal action against the Iowa Utilities Board and Dakota Access challenging the use of eminent domain to forcibly cross their farms and properties. (Rod Boshart/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Iowa landowners in the path of a proposed underground oil pipeline that has won a state-approved permit to proceed Wednesday cited environmental, safety and property-right concerns in vowing to fight the project threatening to traverse their land without their approval.

“This is not a good deal,” said LaVerne Johnson, a Boone County farmer who is one of nine landowners bringing legal action in Polk County contending the Iowa Utilities Board should not have granted eminent domain authority to a Texas developer that doesn’t qualify as a utility.

“It is outrageous that a private company that has no benefit for any Iowan could take my farmland for their use,” added Keith Puntenney, another impacted owner of land in Boone and Webster counties and president of the Private Property Rights Fund.

The lawsuit argues the pipeline developer, Dakota Access LLC, which is a subsidiary of Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners and Phillips 66, shouldn’t be allowed to force landowners to sell easements by condemning the land against their will in a way that runs contrary to a 2006 Iowa law.

“This lawsuit is about whether Iowa law allows a private company, which provides no service to Iowans, the right to use the state’s power of eminent domain over Iowa farmland,” said Bill Hanigan of the Des Moines-based Davis Brown Law Firm which filed the lawsuit against the Iowa Utilities Board on behalf of nine landowners.

“We understand very well that this is a David and Goliath undertaking. Although we are the Davids, we are many,” he said.

Hanigan told an afternoon news conference the affected landowners are not seeking a statewide injunction, but will request individual county court injunctions to stay Dakota Access from proceeding against their clients with local condemnation actions.

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“Our lawsuit is not about delay. We’re in it to win it and we think that the law supports our position,” said Hanigan of a case of first impression focusing on a 2006 legislative change in challenging the use of eminent domain by a private entity seeking to take farmland involuntarily for a private purpose.

“The issue of eminent domain is far, far from over. Instead, it is finally just getting started,” he added. “We expect that with these county-level injunctions, our clients will blaze a trail for other landowners and their lawyers to follow.”

Steve Hickenbottom, a Fairfield landowner, said he was threatened with the use of eminent domain by pipeline agents who would show up without appointment or call him up to six times a day on his cell phone to persuade him to enter into a voluntary easement like 85 percent of the Iowa landowners in pipeline path.

“They’ve been forceful, they’ve been very rude,” he said. “It hasn’t been handled properly in any way, shape or form.”

The Iowa Utilities Board voted 3-0 last month to grant a permit for a hazardous liquid pipeline through 346 miles and 18 counties of Iowa after certain conditions are met. The $3.8 billion pipeline, when built, would reach 1,168 miles from the Bakken and Three Forks region of North Dakota, through South Dakota and Iowa, to a distribution hub in Patoka, Ill.

Dakota Access said last week it has voluntary easement agreements for 85 percent of the land needed in Iowa and 93 percent for the entire route. The majority of land in the path of the underground pipeline is agricultural.

About 200 remaining landowners have resisted, saying it could harm their crops, damage drainage tiles and destroy the land for generations if there is a spill. Trade unions and other business interests have been major supporters of the project, contending it will bring thousands of construction jobs and boost the economy.

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