Bakken pipeline received final federal permit; land use lawsuit pending

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has granted the Texas-based Dakota Access company a federal permit to build the Bakken pipeline across Iowa.

Although opponents plan various forms of direct action, the best remaining chance for stopping the pipeline is a lawsuit challenging the Iowa Utilities Board’s authority to use eminent domain for a project with no legitimate public purpose.

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Iowa wildflower weekend: The dreaded wild parsnip

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources put out a warning this week about an invasive and poisonous plant that has become prevalent in the state.

Though not native to North America, wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) is has spread across most of our continent. I see massive stands near I-80 and I-35 on the west side of the Des Moines area, as well as along lots of country roads.

Many Iowans googling wild parsnip have landed on my post from last year about this plant and the notorious poison hemlock. On my way home from scoping out prairie wildflowers in Dallas County yesterday, I decided to take more pictures of the plant, along with other flowers you may see blooming close to it this time of year.

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Iowa DNR allows Bakken pipeline to run under Indian burial site

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources amended a permit to allow Dakota Access to run the Bakken pipeline under a sensitive area in the Big Sioux River Wildlife Management Area, William Petroski reported for the Des Moines Register on June 20. The amendment means Dakota Access is no longer subject to the stop-work order the DNR imposed last month. DNR spokesperson Kevin Baskins told Petroski the company will run the pipeline "about 85 feet underground" to avoid disrupting sacred ground, which may include American Indian burial sites.

State Archaeologist John Doershuk said in an email last week to DNR Director Chuck Gipp that the proposed directional boring construction method is a satisfactory avoidance procedure from an archaeological standpoint that he supports in this case. However, Doershuk emphasized he could not speak for American Indian tribes that have expressed concerns about the pipeline project.

Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company of Dakota Access, maintains that a 2004 archeological review of the site in question did not turn up any areas of cultural significance. Gavin Aronsen posted that document and comments from a company spokeswoman at Iowa Informer.

Now that the DNR has lifted the stop-work order and the Iowa Utilities Board has changed its stance to allow pipeline construction before Dakota Access has all federal permits in hand, only two legal obstacles stand in the way of completing the project across eighteen Iowa counties. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has yet to issue permits covering a small portion of the Iowa route—though I would be shocked to see the federal government stand in the way once construction has begun. A series of landowner lawsuits are challenging the use of eminent domain for the Bakken pipeline, saying a 2006 Iowa law does not allow farmland to be condemned for a private project by a company that is not a utility.

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Iowa DNR issues stop work order on Bakken pipeline route "ground-disturbing activity"

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has told attorneys for Dakota Access the company is "no longer authorized to engage in any activities" related to a permit previously issued for a pipeline across the Big Sioux River Wildlife Management Area in northwest Iowa, Gavin Aronsen reported at Iowa Informer. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service informed Iowa DNR Director Chuck Gipp on May 25 that a "significant archeological site" identified within that Wildlife Management Area "may fall along the proposed path of the Dakota Access Pipeline," more commonly known as the Bakken pipeline. Consequently, the federal agency revoked approval of that permit and asked the DNR to "stop all tree clearing or any ground-disturbing activities within the pipeline corridor pending further investigation."

Citing the letter from the Fish and Wildlife Service as well as e-mail communication from Iowa’s State Archeologist John Doershuk, yesterday the DNR sent Dakota Access a stop work order for the eastern half of the Wildlife Management Area in Lyon County, overlapping the proposed pipeline route. Aronsen posted both letters in full. Iowa Informer is a must-follow for Bakken pipeline news.

The Bakken Pipeline Resistance Coalition is holding a day of action in Oskaloosa (Mahaska County) on Saturday, May 28. In the morning, kayaks and canoes will float along the South Skunk River near where the pipeline would cross it. Along that section of river, paddlers will pass "7-generation landowner Sylvia Rodgers Spalding’s property adjacent to the proposed pipeline route." Authors Carolyn Raffensperger, Fred Kirschenmann, Angie Carter, and Rachel Morgan will read from the recently-published book Fracture: Essays, Poems, and Stories on Fracking in America at 3 pm at the Book Vault in Oskaloosa (105 South Market Street).

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Turtle Protection Bill passes and is signed by the governor

When a bill passes by an overwhelming bipartisan vote, like the turtle harvesting bill did in both the Iowa House and Senate, one might assume it was easy to persuade lawmakers and the governor to act. Not necessarily. Thanks to Mike Delaney for an in-depth look at how one good idea became state law. Delaney is a founder of the non-profit Raccoon River Watershed Association. Turtle graphic produced by the non-profit Iowa Rivers Revival. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Over the years I have noticed a decline in the number of Soft-shelled turtles on my sandbars along the Raccoon River in Dallas County. When I first bought my farm in 1988 12” and 14” Soft-shells would regularly slide into the river off the sand where they were warming their cold-blooded bodies. A few seconds later you could see their noses and foreheads pop up to look around. When my son and daughter were little I showed them (as my older brothers had shown me as a child) how to walk along the shore at night, focus a flashlight at the water’s edge and spot the heads of baby Softshells sticking out of the sand. However, we have not seen these little guys for many years.

I asked around about what happened to the turtles. County conservation folks told me that the commercial turtle trappers were selling them to China. I asked some “environmentally concerned” friends. One said that the DNR was worried about Iowa’s turtles and had proposed rules to limit turtle “harvest” during egg laying season and limits on the numbers that could be taken. Iowa had no rules preventing over-harvest of turtles. I was told that the rules were being held up in the governor’s office.

I decided to act on the matter.

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Market forces may kill Bakken pipeline despite likely Iowa Utilities Board approval

Pipes intended for use in the Dakota Access pipeline being stored in Jasper County, Iowa during 2015. Photo provided by Wallace Taylor, used with permission.

UPDATE: As expected, the board voted unanimously to approve the permit. Scroll to the end of this post for more details and reaction.

The Iowa Utilities Board will meet this afternoon to issue a decision on the proposed Dakota Access pipeline. Everyone I know in the environmental community expects the three board members to approve the permit for this project, better known as the Bakken pipeline. Litigation is sure to follow, as opponents charge the Iowa Utilities Board’s eminent domain powers may be used only in the service of a "public good," not "to privilege a private corporation."

Other legal hurdles include the need for a permit from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, because the pipeline route would cross "four areas in Iowa that have been identified as sovereign lands." The Sierra Club Iowa chapter has been pushing for a thorough Environmental Impact Study and archaeological review. (Too many Iowa politicians from both parties signed a letter to the utilities board opposing an independent environmental impact assessment.)

Iowa State University economist Dave Swenson has long cast doubt on the "bloated" economic impact numbers Dakota Access has used to market the project. Click here for Swenson’s detailed analysis on the pipeline’s "purported economic and fiscal benefits to the state of Iowa."

A growing number of observers believe the project no longer makes economic sense even for Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company of Dakota Access.

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