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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Iowa Utilities Board proposes hiring mediators in Summit land negotiations
CO2 pipeline opponents see it as attempt to push landowners to sign agreements
DES MOINES — Iowa landowners along the route of Summit Carbon Solutions’ proposed carbon dioxide pipeline across Iowa may be offered third-party mediators during easement negotiations, the Iowa Utilities Board announced Friday.
In an order, the board said the proposal is intended to ease the negotiation process and make for smoother, more understandable proceedings for landowners.
But opponents of the pipelines said they see it as an attempt to encourage landowners who have been resistant to Summit’s negotiations to come to an agreement.
Summit, one of three companies seeking to build a CO2 pipeline in the state, has already signed agreements for close to 70 percent of landowners along its 680-mile proposed route, spokesperson Jesse Harris said.
The pipeline would sequester carbon collected from ethanol plants, taking advantage of federal tax incentives and making Iowa’s ethanol eligible to be sold in low-carbon markets.
The projects have attracted opposition from landowners opposed to the use of eminent domain to gain easements for the pipelines. And environmental activists argue the pipelines will not meaningfully reduce carbon emissions.
The order also removed previous plans to hold a multiweek evidentiary hearing for Summit’s permit in October, instead leaving that hearing unscheduled. Landowners and board member Josh Byrnes objected to that timing because of its conflict with the harvest season.
The Iowa Utilities Board considers and approves or rejects permit applications for utilities, including CO2 pipelines, and has been weighing Summit’s application for more than two years.
Two members of the three-member board were newly appointed last month — former Republican state Rep. Erik Helland of Johnston and Sarah Martz, director of engineering for utilities at Iowa State University in Ames.
The board said the proposal to hire mediators is in response to landowners’ concerns that the negotiation process is “complicated, confusing and stressful.”
“To address these concerns, the board is exploring the use of impartial, third-party mediators to balance the negotiation process and reduce regulatory delay,” the board said in the order.
The board will hear input on the proposal at its June 6 hearing.
‘Not their job’
Jess Mazour, the conservation program coordinator for the Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club, said in a written statement the board should not get involved in negotiations between Summit and landowners.
“We also have major concerns that IUB is considering hiring negotiators because it is not their job to encourage landowners to negotiate with pipeline companies,” Mazour said. “Iowa law clearly states a landowner does not have to negotiate with a pipeline company seeking eminent domain.”
The mediation would be voluntary and at no cost to the landowner, the board said.
Under the proposal, if the landowner does not participate in the voluntary mediation, the board would begin seeking testimony related to eminent domain, which, if granted, would allow the state to take the land for the project and pay the landowner a set amount.
Brian Jorde, a lawyer representing a group of landowners before the Iowa Utilities Board and in numerous lawsuits, said the proposal is akin to “trying to do Summit’s work for them.”
“If they're going to start getting involved in helping billion-dollar companies have an easier time of wrestling property rights away from landowners who don't want to be subjected to this, then we're gonna have to have a very different conversation,” he said.
Summit’s proposed pipeline will cross thousands of parcels of land, and the company has requested the use of eminent domain for portions of the route they cannot obtain voluntarily.
In an emailed statement, Harris did not say whether the company supports the introduction of mediators into negotiations, but he pointed to the level of voluntary easements Summit has obtained and said landowners support the project and want it to move forward.
“In the nearly two and a half years since we first announced our carbon capture, transportation and storage project, Summit team members have completed thousands of one-on-one meetings with landowners and more than 100 public meetings, plus the required IUB county informational meetings,” he said.
Jorde and Mazour also objected to the proposed timeline leading up to the evidentiary hearing, which includes stakeholders submitting testimony. They said the proposed timeline does not afford enough time for affected landowners to be heard, and both said they will file objections to the schedule.
“There's no feasible way that that schedule is going to allow effective due process on the nature and complexity of this docket,” Jorde said. “There's absolutely no reason for it to be compressed, in my opinion, like that. It’s going to be harmful and prejudicial to the landowners.”