Iowa Utilities Board rejects motion to temporarily halt pipeline project

Landowners argued Dakota Access shouldn't be allowed to condemn property

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DES MOINES — Iowa regulators Thursday rejected pleas from 14 landowners to halt construction of the Dakota Access pipeline on their property, sending the issue back to court.

The three-member Iowa Utilities Board unanimously denied the emergency motion, which the pipeline developer argued came five months too late and after it already had condemned easements from the objecting landowners and started work on some of them.

Board members said they rejected the request because they think the landowners’ lawsuit is unlikely to succeed, and because any lengthy delay in the project may cause “substantial harm” to Dakota Access, the Texas-based company building the interstate crude oil pipeline.

The landowners, whose property is in the path of the pipeline and argue the board illegally granted eminent domain authority to the private company. said they will appeal in court.

The owners had gone to court originally. But a Polk County district judge this week said they first had to exhaust any remedies with regulators before turning to the court system.

Plans call for a $3.8 billion, 1,168-mile underground pipeline from North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields to a distribution hub in Illinois. The pipeline would transport up to 570,000 barrels of oil daily and cross from northwest to southeast Iowa, spanning 347 miles and 18 counties.
Construction began on the project in Iowa in June and so far 22 percent of the route in the state is done or is nearly done, Dakota Access wrote in a brief to the board. Roughly three-fourths of it is
cleared.

Overall, the company has said half the construction is already done. In its brief, it gave more specifics of its progress in each state: 93 percent done in South Dakota, 63 percent in North Dakota and 62 percent in Illinois.

It said that of the more than 1,200 parcels needed in Iowa, only four remain to be acquired.

In a hearing Thursday morning before the utilities board, attorneys for Dakota Access said landowners missed their legal chance to halt the project, which the board had approved in March.
Bret Dublinske, a Dakota Access attorney, said seeking board action now threatens to cause financial harm to the company and the project.

“As (the district court judge) pointed out, the only emergency is of their making. … They’ve made no effort until we were on their doorstep,” Dublinske said, accusing “a small fraction of zealous” landowners of “sitting on their rights.”

The company’s brief said it would cost at least a half-million dollars — apiece — if it were forced to jog around the objecting landowners’ parcels.

An attorney representing the landowners had argued the board must put the project on hold until the dispute between those landowners and the pipeline company is resolved by the courts. If a judge rules in favor of landowners after the pipeline is already laid on their land, those landowners lose their constitutional right to due process, he argued.

William Hanigan, an attorney representing the landowners, noted the list of petitioners originally included 15 owners. But by Thursday’s hearing, that was down to 14 because pipeline construction finished on one property.

While this dispute continues in state court, another continues in federal court.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota is fighting a federal permit granted for the pipeline to cross the Missouri River, which it argues endangers its drinking water source and threatens sacred lands. A federal judge said Wednesday he’d rule by Sept. 9 whether to order a stay on work.

Hundreds of Native Americans are protesting at the site. Wednesday, actor Susan Sarandon spoke out against the pipeline, too. Wednesday, former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders added his voice to the opposition.

Leading up to the Iowa caucuses, he had opposed the Iowa leg. He said in a statement Thursday he was against it all.

“As a nation, our job is to break our addiction to fossil fuels, not increase our dependence on oil,” he said. “I join with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the many tribal nations fighting this dangerous pipeline.”

 

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