Iowa pipeline protesters gear up for non-violent 'direct action' to halt construction

Opposition leaders maintain project is illegal, violates eminent domain law

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DES MOINES — The effort to try to keep an underground crude oil pipeline from being built in Iowa is moving from court action to civil disobedience at construction sites.

Ed Fallon, a former state legislator and candidate for governor and Congress who now serves as Bold Iowa’s state director, said he will be among 50 to 100 people who plan a non-violent “direct action” Wednesday in Boone County to protest Dakota Access’ project to place 346 miles of pipeline in 18 Iowa counties, crossing the state on a diagonal from northwest to southeast.

Fallon called the direct action a “last resort” after a district judge Monday denied a motion by 14 affected Iowa landowners to temporarily stop construction of the Texas-based company’s Bakken pipeline while a lawsuit remains pending in Polk County District Court, challenging the use of government sanctioned-eminent domain to take their land.

In denying a temporary stay, District Judge Jeffrey Farrell said the Iowa Utilities Board had conducted a thorough vetting of the issues before granting Dakota Access a state permit and eminent domain authority, and it appeared the petitioning landowners “are not likely to prevail on the merits of their constitutional claim” based upon his cursory review of U.S. Supreme Court case law.

However, Fallon said he believes the $3.8 billion project to transport up to 570,000 barrels of crude oil daily from North Dakota's Bakken oil fields through Iowa to a distribution hub at Patoka, Ill., is illegal and violates an eminent domain law he helped pass as a legislator in 2006. He said he wants to see the project halted until the legal challenges are resolved by the Iowa Supreme Court.

“I don’t know anybody who wants to risk getting arrested, but you get to the point in many struggles for justice where people have to take that stand,” Fallon told a news conference called to discuss an analysis of Bakken oil samples indicating the presence of benzene and other cancer-causing compounds that would potentially flow through the Dakota Access pipeline.

“Dakota Access is just pushing ahead with this as if it’s a done deal, and we have to do everything we can to stand on the side of justice,” Fallon told reporters. “We can’t stand back and do nothing. We have to take action.

“We’re really passionate about making sure that landowners are protected, that our water is protected and we’ll do what we have to do non-violently to respond to the continued efforts to construct this pipeline, especially where landowners have said no,” he added.

Fallon’s comments came one day after Dakota Access filed a motion in federal court seeking a restraining order against Bold Iowa and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI) to keep the protesting groups and their leaders at least 25 feet away from right of way easements, allowing pipeline construction to proceed in Iowa.

Fallon said he did not like to risk arrest but added he opponents would not be intimidated by the pipeline company.

“I feel we’re up against the wall at this point and it is a last resort,” he said. “We’re not going to back down. We’re not going to let this company intimidate us. They’ve been trying to intimidate landowners all along, and they have been successful in intimidating some into signing easements against their better judgment.”

Protesters expressed disappointment with President Barack Obama and Gov. Terry Branstad for not coming to the aid of Iowa landowners, but Branstad spokesman Ben Hammes issued a statement Tuesday saying Iowa law clearly gives the responsibility to the Iowa Utilities Board to decide where pipelines should be approved. He believes the panel was “careful and thoughtful” in granting the permit and “respects the decision made.”

During his weekly news conference Monday, Branstad indicated state law enforcement authorities would “do what is necessary” to protect the safety of Iowa citizens and construction workers.

At opponents’ news conference Tuesday, retired farmer Tim Hooper of Boone said he obtained samples of Bakken oil from an undisclosed well location during a trip to North Dakota and had it analyzed by Iowa State University's Chemical Instrumentation Facility, which found benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene and several other volatile organic compounds that are known to cause cancer and other negative health issues.

Hooper expressed concern over the potential health risks of a pipeline break and the fact that the project “goes right through the very best” farmland and soil in Iowa and cuts existing tile lines.

Donnielle Wanatee, a member of Sac and Fox of the Mississippi in Iowa, said the project poses a threat to Iowa’s land and water with no benefit for the residents of the state, while Keith Puntenney, one of the landowners who brought legal action against Dakota Access, said called the pressurized pipeline “a bomb waiting to go off” near a number of Iowa water sources.

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