Capital Clicks

Judge acquits pipeline surveyor of trespassing charge

By: - July 6, 2023 4:54 pm

The constitutionality of the state's land survey law for pipelines is being challenged. (Photo via Canva)

This is one of an occasional series on the conflict between liquid carbon dioxide pipelines and private landowners in the Midwest. (Logo by Joshua Haiar/South Dakota Searchlight)

A district court judge dismissed a trespassing charge against a carbon dioxide pipeline company’s land surveyor because there was no evidence he was told to avoid the property, according to court records.

Stephen James Larsen, 29, of Arlington, South Dakota, was part of a survey group that went onto private property in Dickinson County in August 2022. He was the only person cited for trespassing.

The survey work for Summit Carbon Solutions will help determine the path and depth of the company’s proposed pipeline, which is set for a final permit hearing later this year.

State law allows the surveys after pipeline companies hold informational meetings about their proposals and send notices to landowners and tenants via certified mail.

Judges have differed in recent months about whether the law is constitutional, and one of the rulings has been appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court.

District Associate Judge Shawna Ditsworth did not address the constitutionality of the law in her recent ruling that acquitted Larsen of the trespassing charge.

“The State failed to bring forward any evidence that Mr. Larsen was told to previously leave the property or not to enter the property,” Ditsworth wrote.

Instead, it was another group of presumed Summit surveyors who were told to leave in March 2022 by a tenant of the Dickinson County land, court records show.

A prosecutor argued that Larsen “had to have had notice” that he was not to go onto the land because of the previous encounter involving other people, but Ditsworth was unconvinced.

“Accordingly, the court concludes that a judgment of acquittal must be entered,” she wrote.

Summit seeks to build a pipeline to transport captured carbon dioxide from ethanol plants in several states to North Dakota, where it will be sequestered deep in the ground.

About 680 miles of pipe are included in its initial proposal that is under consideration by the Iowa Utilities Board. The project will be the subject of a final evidentiary hearing that is set to start in August. Summit plans to add another 31 miles of pipe to connect to an ethanol plant in northern Iowa.

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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.