Judge: Pipeline trespassing case should go to trial

By: - January 31, 2023 11:54 am

A recent map of Dickinson County near Spirit Lake shows in red the tracts of land where Summit Carbon Solutions might seek eminent domain to obtain easements. (Iowa Utilities Board filing)

A district court judge has rejected a request to dismiss the trespassing charge against a land surveyor who attempted to evaluate a northwest Iowa property in August for Summit Carbon Solutions, according to court records.

A tenant of the property had previously turned away another Summit survey crew in April 2022 and told them not to return. The surveyor who was charged with trespassing, Stephen James Larsen, 28, of Arlington, South Dakota, was not part of that first crew and went to the rural Spirit Lake property after the company had attempted to notify the landowner and tenant of the survey, as required by Iowa law.

Summit intends to lay about 680 miles of pipe in Iowa to carry captured carbon dioxide from ethanol plants for underground sequestration in North Dakota.

State law allows the land surveys after hazardous liquid pipeline companies hold informational meetings and send notices via certified mail and specifically says that such work is not trespassing. The surveys help determine the path and depth of the pipelines.

The Dickinson County attorney who is prosecuting the trespassing charge has argued that the company should have obtained a court-ordered injunction to facilitate the survey, which is also allowed by Iowa law when landowners object.

In a ruling on the motion to dismiss late last week, District Associate Judge Shawna Ditsworth said court precedent gives deference to the prosecution and that “a motion to dismiss is not proper to evaluate the merits of the case and a possible defense.”

“The court, at this early state of the proceeding, is unable to conclude, based on the record, that the facts alleged by the state do not constitute the offense of trespass,” Ditsworth wrote.

Ditsworth scheduled a non-jury trial for the case for March 23.

The constitutionality of the law that allows the land surveys is being challenged in separate cases by several landowners — who assert that it violates their land rights — and an Iowa Senate bill that would bar the surveys without landowner permission is pending.

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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.