Business

Group of landowners sues over Bakken pipeline

The 9 assert the Iowa Utilities Board shouldn't have allowed eminent domain

Hundreds of miles of pipe sit in storage in Newton as photographed on Wednesday, October 14, 2015. The Bakken group is i
Hundreds of miles of pipe sit in storage in Newton as photographed on Wednesday, October 14, 2015. The Bakken group is in the process of securing land for it’s pipeline project and preparing for the build despite the fact the line hasn’t been approved. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette) ¬

A group of landowners in the path of an interstate crude oil pipeline is suing Iowa regulators, contending eminent domain shouldn’t have been allowed because the developer doesn’t qualify as a utility.

Bill Hanigan of the Davis Brown Law Firm filed the lawsuit against the Iowa Utilities Board on Friday in Polk County District Court on behalf of nine landowners. The lawsuit argues the pipeline developer, Dakota Access LLC, which is a subsidiary of Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners and Phillips 66, shouldn’t be allowed to force landowners to sell easements by condemning the land against their will.

The utilities board voted 3-0 on March 10 to grant a permit for a hazardous liquid pipeline through 346 miles and 18 counties of Iowa after certain conditions are met. The $3.8 billion pipeline, when built, would reach 1,168 miles from the Bakken and Three Forks region of North Dakota, through South Dakota and Iowa, to a distribution hub in Patoka, Ill.

Opponents of the project had been threatening a lawsuit well before the ruling, and a judicial review is one of the appeal mechanisms set forth in the board’s order.

A Cherokee County judge last fall dismissed a lawsuit filed on behalf of three landowners making a similar argument that Dakota Access didn’t have the right to use eminent domain. The judge stated due process had to be exhausted — in other words, other agencies needed to rule on the matter first — before the case could be heard in court.

According to a statement from the Davis Brown firm, “Our clients will argue that the Iowa Utilities Board has misinterpreted Iowa law, specifically the 2006 law designed to protect Iowa farmland.”

Other similar lawsuits should be expected as the eminent domain process plays out, the firm stated.

Dakota Access said last week it has voluntary easement agreements for 85 percent of the land needed in Iowa and 93 percent for the entire route. The majority of land in the path of the underground pipeline is agricultural.

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Some landowners have resisted, saying it could harm their crops, damage drainage tiles and destroy the land for generations if there is a spill. Trade unions and other business interests have been major supporters of the project, contending it will bring thousands of construction jobs and boost the economy.

Hanigan and some of the landowners are holding an event to discuss the case Wednesday with reporters.

Only a few of the landowners are identified. They include Cyndy Coppola, representing landowners of Calhoun County; LaVerne Johnson, of Pilot Mound, and Keith Puntenney, a farmer in Boone and Webster counties.

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