Government

Iowa Supreme Court sides with Dakota Access on eminent domain case

Anti-Bakken pipeline signs are displayed by Highway 30 in Boone County. (Ames Tribune)
Anti-Bakken pipeline signs are displayed by Highway 30 in Boone County. (Ames Tribune)

A group of Iowa landowners who have been fighting the state’s use of eminent domain to make way for the Bakken pipeline has lost its appeal.

The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday affirmed a district court ruling allowing the Iowa Utilities Board to use eminent domain to secure land for the crude oil pipeline owned by Dakota Access, a subsidiary of Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners.

The utilities board in 2016 approved the use of eminent domain for the construction of the more than 1,100-mile pipeline, which spans 18 Iowa counties.

Several landowners refused to grant an easement for the pipeline and later filed a lawsuit against the utilities board and Dakota Access arguing that the project trespassed on their land and failed to meet the “public convenience and necessity” requirement for the use of eminent domain.

The Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club joined the lawsuit.

The Iowa District Court for Polk County in August 2016 denied the petitioners request for judicial review.

On Friday, the Supreme Court ruling found that the board was within its rights in granting the use of eminent domain.

“We conclude that the IUB’s weighing of benefits and costs supports its determination that the pipeline serves the public convenience and necessity,” according to the ruling.

Dakota Access installed and began pumping crude oil through the $3.8 billion pipeline in 2017.

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“We are pleased that the Iowa Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Iowa Utilities Board granting a permit, including the use of eminent domain, for the Dakota Access pipeline,” Lisa Dillinger, spokeswoman with Energy Transfer, said in an email.

“The court correctly found that Iowans and the Iowa economy benefit from safe, efficient transportation of important fuels and fuel stock. The board reviewed a massive record in finding that the Dakota Access pipeline serves the public interest. And while we reached voluntary agreement with all but a handful of landowners for easements, we are glad the court made the important ruling that a handful of objectors cannot block major infrastructure projects.”

Craig Stevens, spokesman for Grow America’s Infrastructure Now, a coalition of trade organizations and labor groups, also applauded the court’s decision.

“It’s critical that companies that invest billions of dollars in large-scale infrastructure projects have the regulatory certainty that the laws on the books mean something — and that they can feel confident that if they follow those laws and regulations projects can be completed and become operational,” he wrote in a news release.

However, Bill Hanigan, an attorney with the Davis Brown Law Firm, which represents the landowners, said in a Friday statement that, “We are disappointed for our clients, but also for all Iowa landowners. This sets a precedent for wealthy developers seizing Iowa farmland for private ventures that bring no measurable benefit to Iowans.”

“Although the Supreme Court acknowledged that climate change is a serious threat, they still ruled against the Sierra Club,” Carolyn Raffensperger, Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club chairwoman, wrote in a Friday email.

“This shows how much work we still have to do to protect the climate in face of the fossil fuel extravaganza and its ecologically damaging existential threat to our planet,” she said.

• Comments: (319) 398-8309; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

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