© 2024 Iowa Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

I felt threatened: Iowa Landowners Sue to Protect Against Eminent Domain

Bakken oil fields in the winter.
Geof Wilson
Bakken oil fields in the winter.

A group of Iowa landowners is suing the Iowa Utilities Board, saying it’s an effort to protect their property from eminent domain.

The plaintiffs claim that agents from the proposed Dakota Access pipeline have told them if they don’t agree to easements that allow the pipeline onto their property, they will have their land seized by the state. The plaintiffs' attorney Bill Hanigan says the state’s utilities board has no authority to grant eminent domain because the pipeline will not be providing a utility to Iowans.

"In Iowa utilities deliver natural gas, electricity, telephone, internet and water to Iowans. Upon delivery Iowans consume all these services. Dakota Access delivers nothing to Iowans and it receives nothing from Iowans," says Hanigan. "Furthermore, crude oil is not even consumable by anyone until further refined. And Iowa has no crude oil refineries." 

Some of the landowners are unwilling to sign an easement because the rights it grants don't expire, which they say lessens property values. Plaintiffs also say the pipeline harms agricultural production due to excessive heat and water, and also exposes state waterways to pollution. 

"The bottom of that ditch has to be five-foot wide to get that pipe in...so you  now have a five foot dam, underground running the entire length of the state that's never been there before," says Keith Puntenney, an attorney who also farms in Boone and Webster Counties. "We're going to have excess water...which is going to create impossible issues for disease...That's a history of low yields forever, as long as that easement is granted." 

Dick Lamb and his wife Judy own a 300-acre farm in Boone County, which his grandfather bought in the 1870s. Lamb says he told Dakota Access that no amount of money could convince him to sell, but he feels his options are limited.

"The buyers have said if you don’t settle with us, you’re going to have to face eminent domain. And that is going to be a terrible situation that you don’t want to go through," says Lamb. "I felt threatened."

Dakota Access's parent company Energy Transfer Partners and the Iowa Utilities Board both say they do not comment on pending litigation. In a written statement Energy Transfer told Iowa Public Radio that its goal is to obtain voluntary easement agreements in which landowners are fairly compensated based on the fair market value of a property.

"It is our intent to cultivate a relationship with each landowner in order to negotiate an easement agreement that meets the needs of both the landowner and the company. Using legal channels to obtain easement agreements is a last resort and is rarely used," says Energy Transfer 

The pipeline company reports it has obtained easement agreements on more than 61 percent of the tracts along the proposed route in Iowa.