116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Home / News / Crime and Courts
Iowa judge: Pipeline trespassing case should go to trial
Land surveyor for Summit Carbon Solutions now faces March 23 trial
By Jared Strong - Iowa Capital Dispatch
Feb. 1, 2023 10:14 am
A district court judge has rejected a request to dismiss a trespassing charge against a land surveyor who attempted to evaluate a Northwest Iowa property in August on behalf of Summit Carbon Solutions, according to court records.
A tenant of the property previously had turned away another Summit survey crew in April 2022 and told it not to return. The surveyor who was charged with trespassing, Stephen James Larsen, 28, of Arlington, S.D., was not part of that first crew and went to the rural Spirit Lake property after the company had attempted to notify the landowner and tenant of the survey, as required by Iowa law.
Summit intends to lay about 680 miles of pipe in Iowa to carry captured carbon dioxide from ethanol plants for underground sequestration in North Dakota. It is one of three companies hoping to build CO2 pipelines in Iowa.
State law allows the land surveys after hazardous liquid pipeline companies hold informational meetings and send notices via certified mail, and specifically says that such work is not trespassing. The surveys help determine the path and depth of the proposed pipelines.
The Dickinson County Attorney who is prosecuting the trespassing charge has argued that the company should have obtained a court-ordered injunction to facilitate the survey, which is also allowed by Iowa law when landowners object.
In a ruling on the motion to dismiss, District Associate Judge Shawna Ditsworth said late last week that court precedent gives deference to the prosecution and that “a motion to dismiss is not proper to evaluate the merits of the case and a possible defense.”
“The court, at this early state of the proceeding, is unable to conclude, based on the record, that the facts alleged by the state do not constitute the offense of trespass,” Ditsworth wrote. Ditsworth scheduled a non-jury trial for March 23.
The constitutionality of the law that allows the land surveys is being challenged in separate cases by several landowners — who assert that it violates their land rights — and a bill in the Iowa Senate that would bar the surveys without landowner permission is pending.
This article first appeared in the Iowa Capital Dispatch.