Landowners oppose oil pipeline before Iowa Supreme Court

A group of Iowa landowners and an environmental group asked the Iowa Supreme Court Wednesday to declare a crude oil pipeline permit illegal under the Iowa Constitution, a decision that could force the pipeline in operation for more than a year to be turned off.

The attorney for a group of landowners who opposed construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline through their property told the court since the pipeline provides no direct use to Iowans the decision of the Iowa Utilities Board to grant a permit should be reversed.

"The pipeline crosses the state with no oil wells, no refineries, this pipeline has no onramps and no offramps," said Bill Hannigan. "Iowans have no direct use."

The farmers' land was taken through eminent domain approved by the state utilities board, which concluded that the $4 billion, 1,172-mile underground pipeline transporting over 450,000 barrels per day of domestic crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois provides was necessary.

An Iowa court judge in February 2017 concluded the board properly considered public benefits of the pipeline. The landowners and the environmental group Sierra Club of Iowa appealed. Sierra Club wants the entire pipeline closed down. The landowners want the sections taken by eminent domain removed from their land.

"I want them out. I want them gone. They had no right to come do this," Fairfield farmer Steven Hickenbottom said after the court arguments.

The company took about eight acres across a 170-acre tract of his land, which totals about 1,000 acres in southeast Iowa.

The pipeline has been carrying oil since June 2017.

The state utilities board concluded that since pipelines are safer than rail transportation and there are economic benefits to the pipeline, the use of eminent domain was justified.

"The board position is there is substantial evidence in the record to support their decisions," said board lawyer Cecil Wright

The high court may choose to use the case to determine whether the state eminent domain laws are lawful under the Iowa Constitution.

Justice Brent Appel challenged the Dakota Access argument.

"It seems to me your argument is whenever the state decides that there's some remote or incidental benefit they can come and take your property," he said. "You might as well just say your right to property is not a constitutional right but subject to the legislative dictate."

Dublinske said there are legislative limits to the power through the utilities board process in which a permit applicant must prove there will be a public use to the project.

The Sierra Club also argued that because the pipeline risks contaminating drinking water for thousands of Iowans, the permit should be overturned.

The Iowa case isn't the only legal challenge to the pipeline.

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe continues its federal court lawsuit in the District of Columbia and is joined by three other Dakotas tribes seeking to shut down the pipeline.


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