116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CHEROKEE - A judge said Thursday he'll rule within two weeks whether three landowners in the path of a proposed crude oil pipeline across the state can proceed with a lawsuit challenging the way their property could be taken against their will.
The owners - Marian Johnson of Cherokee County, Brent Jesse of Buena Vista County and Richard Lamb of Boone County - are contesting the Iowa Utility Board's authority to grant a developer, Dakota Access LLC, the power of eminent domain to take land for the pipeline.
'I'm optimistic in the long run that we'll prevail,” landowner Lamb said. 'I feel as if an out-of-state corporation has decided they have a better plan for my land than I do. I see no justice in that.”
The 1,100-mile pipeline through four states would carry up to 570,000 barrels of crude from the Bakken region of western North Dakota to a shipping terminal in Patoka, Ill. In Iowa, 346 miles of underground pipe would be laid through 18 counties, stretching from the northwest to southeast.
In January, Dakota Access filed for a hazardous liquids pipeline permit with the board. The board is planning hearings on the request. Under state law, the board is allowed to grant eminent domain powers for utility projects.
However, William Hanigan, a Des Moines attorney for the landowners, argued it remains unclear whether the project serves a public purpose.
The board and Dakota Access, a subsidiary of Dallas, Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners LP, have filed motions to dismiss the suit.
District Court Judge Carl J. Petersen heard arguments from each side during a hearing Thursday in Cherokee. A crowd of about 60, which included a number of landowners and their supporters, watched.
Petersen acknowledged the case affects a lot of people and said he would make a timely decision.
Attorneys for the utilities board and Dakota Access argued the suit should be tossed because the owners have not exhausted administrative remedies, a requirement before actions of a state agency can be challenged in district court.
Hanigan said his clients deserve an exception because of 'immediate irreparable injury” from the threat of eminent domain and lower property values.
'Ripeness doesn't require the Iowa Utility Board to do anything,” Hanigan said of bringing the case to trial. 'We have ripeness because of what Dakota Access has already done.”
Hanigan said the owners want to go directly to trial because they lack means to seek answers from the oil company.
Dakota Access attorney Bret Dublinske said they can ask those questions during a three-week hearing the board has scheduled from Nov. 12 to Dec. 2 in Boone.
After the hearings, the board is expected to rule on Dakota Access' requests to build the pipeline and be able to use eminent domain. The developer has said it would resort to the condemnation process only in cases in which it doesn't reach voluntary agreements.
The developer estimates it will spend $200 million to acquire permanent easements for about 2,000 tracts of land.
If forced to sell, the owners argue the payout would be based on fair market value, which they contend would be much lower than a transaction between a willing seller and buyer.