Owners of two farms in Cherokee County filed lawsuits on May 20 seeking to block the Texas-based oil company Energy Transfer Partners from seizing their land for the Dakota Access (Bakken) pipeline, William Petroski reported for the Des Moines Register. I enclose excerpts from his story below.
Like a separate lawsuit filed in Polk County last month, these legal claims are based on a 2006 Iowa law, which was designed to protect farmland from being condemned for private development. The plaintiffs argue the Iowa Utilities Board erred when it authorized a private company that is not a utility to use eminent domain.
Regardless of how district courts decide these claims, the Iowa Supreme Court will likely be the final voice on whether state law allows the use of eminent domain for this project.
Dakota Access started Bakken pipeline construction in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Illinois this week, but the Iowa Utilities Board denied the company's request to start building here. O.Kay Henderson reported for Radio Iowa that the board's legal counsel noted the oil company "has not filed all the necessary permits and associated verifications to begin construction." Although the board approved the permit to build the Bakken pipeline in March, as did the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the Army Corps of Engineers has not yet approved permits for portions of the pipeline that would cross federal land.
Brian Morelli and Rod Boshart reported for the Cedar Rapids Gazette on the Private Property Rights Coalition's work to educate landowners along the pipeline route about the eminent domain process and "legal options if they refuse to voluntarily sign easement agreements with the oil company." One of that group's leaders is Keith Puntenney, who has not signed an easement for his farmland in Boone and Webster counties. Puntenney is also the Democratic challenger to State Senator Jerry Behn in Iowa Senate district 24.
More resources for landowners and citizens who oppose the pipeline project are available on the website of the Bakken Pipeline Resistance Coalition, uniting more than two dozen Iowa non-profit organizations. I expect Bakken opponents to make their presence known when U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota comes to Des Moines as the featured guest for the Iowa Democratic Party's Hall of Fame event next month.
From William Petroski's article for the Des Moines Register, "Iowa farmers sue to block use of eminent domain for Bakken pipeline":
The lawsuits and related motions in Cherokee County District District ask the court to suspend the condemnation proceedings, said Bill Hanigan, a lawyer for the Davis Brown law firm in Des Moines, which represents both couples. A Cherokee County compensation commission is scheduled to meet June 13 to begin valuing the farmland for seizure by Dakota Access, the lawyer said.
The plaintiffs are asking the court to stop the county meetings until the court has had time to consider whether a private company is entitled to use eminent domain to seize farmland. The suit contends that state and federal law prohibits the taking of their property because Dakota Access is not a utility and therefore should not have the ability to forcibly access Iowa landowners' property across the state to build the pipeline. [...]
"Landowners have begun receiving notices of the county compensation meetings," Hanigan said in a prepared statement. "Unless suspended, the meetings will result in Dakota Access taking possession of the farmland. We are asking Iowa's courts to suspend these actions until after a full hearing on the merits of each landowner's case."
"We expect additional lawsuits will be filed in additional counties in the coming weeks," he said.
Photo at top shows 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.