Pipeline company sought to limit required safeguards for soil

By: - November 2, 2022 5:01 pm

The Navigator CO2 Ventures pipeline would bisect the state from northwest to southeast. (Iowa Utilities Board filing)

Navigator CO2 Ventures wanted to reduce its obligations to sample and restore topsoil for the construction of its proposed carbon dioxide pipeline, according to Iowa Utilities Board filings.

But the company told Iowa Capital Dispatch on Wednesday that it is rescinding that request due to “constructive feedback from landowners.”

Navigator filed its petition for a permit with the IUB last week to build a pipeline that bisects the state from northwest to southeast and spans about 811 miles. The company included a request to waive certain requirements in an effort to limit the number of topsoil depth samples it must collect in farm fields before construction and to reduce the amount of tilling of topsoil when it is replaced after construction.

The company proposed an alternative set of rules that it said would achieve the same goals but would cost less.

“Our goal was to use best practices and, in fact, exceed the objectives of state requirements,” the company said in a written statement. “However, due to feedback received on the waiver, we will be withdrawing said request later this afternoon.”

Navigator had asked to reduce the minimum number of soil samples taken roughly every 500 feet along the route. At each of those points, the current rules require samples at each edge of the easement width and one roughly in the middle. The company instead wanted to take two samples. It also sought to treat multiple, contiguous parcels owned by the same person as one parcel, because IUB rules require a minimum of two sample points per parcel. The company said parcels vary in shape and that smaller parcels might be oversampled compared with larger ones.

Navigator said the soil sampling required by the IUB is “twice the effort, time and resources” than what the company had proposed.

Those samples help determine how much topsoil is removed and set away from construction activity to prevent it from mixing with subsoil, which damages the productivity of cropland. After construction, the topsoil is put back.

An Iowa State University study published last year found that damage to cropland from the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline — a crude oil pipeline that was completed in 2017 — resulted in yield losses of 15% for corn and 25% for soybeans in the first two years after construction.

Researchers cited the mixing of topsoil and subsoil and the soil compaction from heavy machinery as being the main causes of those yield losses, and that the cropland they studied was recovering very slowly.

A Buena Vista County landowner whose two farms were affected by Dakota’s construction, Kristin Frish, complained to the IUB in February 2017 that workers had operated when the ground was too wet and bemoaned the “lack of care that (Dakota Access) demonstrated in handling our soil.”

The IUB amended its land restoration rules last year to give county inspectors sole authority in deciding whether construction should be halted because of wet conditions — which can increase the risk of mixing topsoil and subsoil — among other rule changes.

Navigator also wanted to reduce the required minimum tilling of replaced topsoil from three passes to one, according to its waiver request. It further sought shallower tilling depths in areas that have utility or drainage lines.

The company said the current tilling regulations can be “unnecessary, time-consuming, expensive and burdensome to the land and landowner,” according to its waiver request.

“Our goal was not to circumvent the ag restoration and mitigation requirements,” Navigator said in the written statement.

Wally Taylor, an attorney for Sierra Club’s Iowa Chapter, said the waiver request shows that Navigator has “no commitment” to protecting Iowa farmland.

“They want to do things cheaply and quickly, and they don’t care about the consequences,” he said.

Navigator’s request met swift resistance from landowners and others, according to IUB filings. That included state Rep. Pat Grassley, a New Hartford Republican who is the speaker of the Iowa House and is up for election next week.

“This company’s request for a waiver to these rules, to my knowledge, is not common, and it clearly displays their concern with protecting their bottom line over their duty to fairly work with landowners,” Grassley wrote in a letter of objection.

Navigator is one of three companies that have proposed pipelines to transport captured carbon dioxide from ethanol plants in Iowa. Summit Carbon Solutions was the first to file for a permit in January 2022, and it hopes to have it approved in June 2023. However, Summit and Navigator are tangling in court with landowners who have refused to allow surveys of their land to determine the pipelines’ paths, and one of Summit’s surveyors faces a trespassing trial in December.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register. His investigative work exposing police misconduct has notched several state and national awards. He is a longtime trustee of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, which fights for open records and open government. He is a lifelong Iowan and has lived mostly in rural western parts of the state.

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