Carbon pipeline opponents gathered at the Iowa Capitol in March to protest the use of eminent domain to build them. (Photo by Katie Akin/Iowa Capital Dispatch)
The Iowa Utilities Board should order a carbon pipeline company to stop contacting unwilling landowners about easement agreements, according to a conservation group’s “motion to protect landowners.”
“The hundreds of comments and objections from landowners filed in the docket in this case confirm that landowners do not want to sign easements,” wrote the Sierra Club Iowa Chapter, which opposes Summit Carbon Solutions’ pipeline proposal.
Summit is one of three companies to announce a project to transport liquefied carbon dioxide captured from ethanol plants and other agricultural facilities in Iowa to be pumped into the ground in other states. Summit is the only of the companies so far to formally request a hazardous liquid pipeline permit from the IUB, which it did in January after holding a series of public meetings to inform potentially affected landowners about the project.
The company is seeking voluntary permission from people along the proposed pipeline route to bury the pipeline in their ground in exchange for money, but it could use eminent domain to force the agreements with the approval of the IUB.
As of Friday, Summit has inked agreements for about 30% of the 680-mile route through Iowa, said Jesse Harris, director of public affairs for the company. That’s an increase from two months ago when Summit said it had agreements for about 25% of the route.
“We look forward to continuing engaging landowners, answering their questions and securing additional voluntary easements,” Harris told Iowa Capital Dispatch.
But that continued engagement is considered harassment by landowners who are adamantly opposed to the project, according to Sierra Club filings. The group wants the IUB to limit pipeline company contacts with landowners to three times for negotiations.
“I have made it clear that I will not sign an easement, and I just want the land agents to stop harassing me,” Dan Tronchetti of Greene County wrote to the IUB.
Another landowner wrote that she had received five calls, three voicemails and a text message from one of the agents. The text message indicated the agent planned to mail an easement agreement with a monetary offer of about $58,000, according to an IUB filing.
Another landowner, Kathy Carter in Floyd County, wrote that she had received at least nine telephone calls from Summit agents, three pieces of mail and an unannounced personal visit from an agent after repeatedly telling him she was not interested in signing an agreement.
The Sierra Club also wants the board to prohibit Summit negotiators from mentioning the possibility of eminent domain to landowners. Further, the group said the IUB should contact all affected landowners and tell them they are not required to talk to the Summit agents or sign agreements.
Summit, in its written resistance to the Sierra Club requests, said Iowa law requires it to engage in “good faith negotiations” and to make easement offers before eminent domain can be used to force the agreements.
“In many cases, a few initial contacts are necessary simply to make an introduction, learn information about possible tenants, and to provide simple introductory information regarding the project,” Summit’s attorneys wrote.
It’s unclear when the board will make a decision about the Sierra Club’s requests.
In a recent IUB filing, Summit proposed a new schedule for the pipeline permit proceedings that indicates it will file information about eminent domain requests in September, with the goal of holding a multi-day hearing on the permit request in March 2023.
That hearing was initially anticipated to take place in November, but “several policymakers have communicated an interest in later hearing date,” Summit’s filing said.
State lawmakers had considered legislation that would have prohibited the IUB from holding the hearing until February 2023. The Iowa House approved the measure as part of an appropriations bill in March, but it lacked support in the Senate.
Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, who was a leading proponent of the idea, said the House vote was sufficient to secure a delay in the hearing schedule. He has said the delay removes — at least temporarily — the threat of eminent domain as Summit attempts to negotiate with wary landowners.
“We sent a message that we’re willing to act if property rights are attempted to be infringed on,” Kaufmann said, according to a Radio Iowa report.
Some of those landowners said the moratorium would do nothing to allay their fears because it wouldn’t significantly alter Summit’s schedule, and lawmakers who oppose eminent domain for the private pipeline projects said they will have little time to pass legislation next session to prevent it.
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