Government

Jury awards Boone County landowner $250,000 in Dakota Access pipeline lawsuit

(Photo by Nirmalnedu Majumdar/Ames Tribune) One of two signs on Dick and Judith Lamb’s property in Boone County near Ames in 2015 protesting Dakota Access LLC’s plans to build a crude oil pipeline through the state.
(Photo by Nirmalnedu Majumdar/Ames Tribune) One of two signs on Dick and Judith Lamb’s property in Boone County near Ames in 2015 protesting Dakota Access LLC’s plans to build a crude oil pipeline through the state.

By Logan Kahler, Boone News-Republican

A Boone County jury this week awarded a property owner who sued over the construction of an oil pipeline through her property $250,000 following a nearly weeklong trial in which she challenged the pipeline’s use of eminent domain.

The jury returned its judgment in the case against Dakota Access on Wednesday, saying the $250,000 was the difference in the “fair and reasonable value of the property,” before it was taken through eminent domain in July 2016, and the value of the property after it was taken.

Judith Anne Lamb, as trustee of the Judith Anne Lamb Revocable Trust, filed the lawsuit in 2016 as construction on the pipeline was beginning. Its construction, which was completed in 2017, was the focus of protests from activists across Iowa, including Boone and Story counties. Lamb and her husband, Richard, live in the Iowa City area but own about 150 acres in Boone County, just west of Ames.

Telephone messages left for attorneys for Lamb and Dakota Access were not returned.

Lamb claimed the construction of the pipeline damaged the land and decreased its value. In court documents, Lamb said that because of a multitude of opportunity for commercial use for the land, an initial evaluation in July 2016 showing the land’s value at just over $90,000, was just a fraction of its actual value. She said the land had a value of about $950,000.

At the center of the debate leading up to and during its construction was the use of eminent domain to take land needed to bury the pipeline, with opponents arguing the project didn’t meet the requirement of public benefit to use eminent domain. Opponents also argued the environmental risks associated with its construction and eventual operation were too great, and that the construction of the pipeline would cause long-term damage to valuable farmland.

According to the Dakota Access website, the $3.8 billion project is estimated to generate $55 million in property tax revenue for the states it transects. During the debate leading up to the construction, the company argued it had safety measures in place to detect leaks and shut them down remotely preventing contamination.

The state sided with the Texas-based company, when the Iowa Utilities Board ruled the public benefits were found to include significant safety advantages of pipeline transportation of crude oil compared with the alternatives and the jobs and other economic benefits associated with construction and operation of the pipeline, projected to be at least $787 million during the construction period alone.

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The pipeline spans more than 1,100 miles, connecting the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to an oil terminal in southern Illinois. It crosses 18 Iowa counties, including Boone and Story counties.

Following this week’s verdict, the court scheduled a hearing for Feb. 15 to address matters related to finalizing payments to lawyers.

Another lawsuit over the use of eminent domain to take property for the pipeline is pending before the Iowa Supreme Court, and several others have been filed seeking damages against Dakota Access for damaged soil and crop loss.

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