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Landowners oppose oil pipeline before Iowa Supreme Court

Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A group of Iowa landowners and an environmental group asked the Iowa Supreme Court on Wednesday to declare a permit for a crude-oil pipeline illegal under the Iowa Constitution, a decision that could force the pipeline to be turned off.

A lawyer representing a group of landowners who opposed the construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline through their property told the court that, since the pipeline provides no direct use to Iowans, the decision of the Iowa Utilities Board to grant a permit should be reversed.

“The pipeline crosses the state with no oil wells, no refineries, this pipeline has no onramps and no offramps,” said Bill Hannigan. “Iowans have no direct use.”

The farmers’ land was taken through the use of eminent domain after the state utilities board concluded the pipeline was needed. The $4 billion, 1,172-mile underground line takes more than 450,000 barrels of domestic crude oil a day from North Dakota to Illinois.

A judge in an Iowa court ruled in February 2017 that the board had properly taken into account the likely public benefits of the pipeline. The landowners and the environmental group Sierra Club of Iowa appealed. Sierra Club wants the entire pipeline to be closed down. The landowners want the sections taken by eminent domain to be removed from their land.

“I want them out. I want them gone. They had no right to come do this,” Steven Hickenbottom, a farmer from Fairfield, said after the court arguments.

The company took about eight acres from an 170-acre tract of his land.

The pipeline has been carrying oil since June 2017.

The state utilities board concluded that since pipelines are safer than rail transportation and have economic benefits, the use of eminent domain was justified.

“The board position is there is substantial evidence in the record to support their decisions,” said Cecil Wright, a lawyer representing the board.

The high court may choose to use the case to determine whether the state’s eminent-domain laws are allowed under the Iowa Constitution.

Justice Brent Appel challenged the argument in favor of the Dakota Access project.

“It seems to me your argument is whenever the state decides that there’s some remote or incidental benefit they can come and take your property,” he said. “You might as well just say your right to property is not a constitutional right but subject to the legislative dictate.”

The Sierra Club also argued that because the pipeline risks contaminating drinking water for thousands of Iowans, the project permit should be overturned.

The Iowa case isn’t the only legal challenge to the pipeline.

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe and three other Dakota tribes are pursuing a  lawsuit in federal court in the District of Columbia. The suit seeks to have the pipeline shut down.

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