Supreme Court denies appeal in pipeline trespassing case
Legal challenges to carbon dioxide pipelines continue amid changes to a board that oversees them
The Iowa Supreme Court chamber in the Iowa Judicial Building on Feb. 22, 2023. (Photo by Kathie Obradovich/Iowa Capital Dispatch)
The Iowa Supreme Court has rejected the appeal of a carbon dioxide pipeline surveyor who was charged last year with trespassing in northwest Iowa and wanted the case dismissed before trial, according to court records.
Stephen James Larsen, 28, of Arlington, South Dakota, was cited in August for going onto a Dickinson County property to conduct a land survey for Summit Carbon Solutions’ proposed pipeline after other surveyors had previously been told to leave and not return.
A district court judge denied Larsen’s request to dismiss the case in January, and a trial is now set for June 29, court records show.
Larsen sought a review from the Supreme Court of that judge’s denial, but the high court declined to do so in an order last week.
The order, signed by Justice Christopher McDonald, noted that the appeal contained too many documents — a total of more than 90 pages that exceeds a normally allowed 25-page limit set forth by the state’s Rules of Appellate Procedure.
“These documents appear to constitute the entire record of the proceedings below,” McDonald wrote. “The length limitation is designed to ensure an orderly and efficient process for deciding motions by providing the court with ready assess to the most critical aspects of the record.”
Larsen is being represented by attorneys Alan Ostergren of Des Moines and Bethany Brands of Spirit Lake.
Ostergren has argued that Iowa law explicitly protects land surveyors for pipelines from being charged with trespassing. The law gives pipeline companies access to private land after they hold informational meetings about the projects and provide 10 days’ written notice via certified mail.
“The entry for land surveys … shall not be deemed a trespass and may be aided by (court) injunction,” the law says.
“If you if you think of this as a sword and a shield in the same sentence, the shield is: The entry is not deemed a trespass,” Ostergren said during a district court hearing in December. “The sword is: The pipeline company gets the ability to go to court and get legal process to aid its entry.”
Dickinson County Attorney Steven Goodlow, who is prosecuting the case, has said landowners and a tenant refused to accept certified letters from the company and that Summit should have sought an injunction to force the survey, potentially with the assistance of law enforcement.
Other pending casesThe trespassing case is among several challenges to the state’s land survey law.
Another district court judge’s decision in pending in Woodbury County, where pipeline company Navigator CO2 Ventures has sued landowners to get an injunction.
That case, involving William and Vicki Hulse, went to trial in March. It hinges on whether Navigator met its requirements for notifying the Hulses of the survey and whether the survey law is constitutional.
It’s unclear when the case will be decided. It is one of several lawsuits that Navigator and Summit have filed against unwilling landowners.
Early this month, a judge overseeing a lawsuit in Clay County found that Navigator had complied with notification requirements but did not yet issue an injunction, pending a decision about the constitutionality of the law.
Brian Jorde, an Omaha, Nebraska, attorney who is representing landowners in the lawsuits, said the Clay County case differs from the one in Woodbury County because the Clay landowner admitted he signed for the 10-day notice.
Navigator has two other pending lawsuits against landowners which have been consolidated into one case, set for trial in May in Butler County.
Summit has pending lawsuits in six counties that are set to go to trial between May and August.
The Iowa Utilities Board’s now-former chairperson had said to expect a hearing for Summit’s hazardous liquid pipeline permit to be held starting in October. It’s unclear whether that schedule will hold.
New board appointmentsThat hearing will follow a significant shake-up in the composition of the three-member board. Existing members had overseen the entirety of the proceedings for three proposed carbon dioxide pipelines.
Those proceedings began in August 2021 for Summit, in October 2021 for Navigator and in June 2022 for Wolf Carbon Solutions.
Board member Richard Lozier’s term expires at the end of this month, and Gov. Kim Reynolds announced in early April her appointment of Erik Helland to the board as its chairperson.
Helland is an attorney and former state representative who has most recently been a member of the Iowa Public Employment Relations Board.
Huser’s term as chairperson was set to expire at the end of the month, but her term as a board member extended into 2027. However, Huser has “stepped down” from the board, said Kollin Crompton, a spokesman for the governor’s office. He did not specify when that happened or when it was effective.
This week, Reynolds announced her appointment of Sarah Martz to the board. Martz is the director of engineering for utility distribution at Iowa State University.
The Senate on Thursday approved those appointments, which required two-thirds support. Helland was confirmed with a 39-11 vote, and Martz was unanimously confirmed.
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