CORRECTION: This version corrects attribution on quote in third paragraph to Dick Lamb. Also clarifies that landowner LaVerne Johnson referenced in 16th graf, passed away in April. We apologize for the errors.
The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday rejected an appeal by landowners and an environmental group who sought to review the use of eminent domain to build the Dakota Access oil pipeline across the state.
Following the release of the opinion, one property owner said he was “devastated” by the court's ruling.
“How can a Texas company be allowed to seize my family farmland for their profit?” said Boone County landowner Dick Lamb in a statement released by the Davis Brown Law Firm in Des Moines, which represented the property owners in the case.
In its decision, the Supreme Court denied the appeal of a district court's 2017 decision not to take up a review of a decision by the Iowa Utilities Board granting the use of eminent domain to build the pipeline.
“We conclude that the use of eminent domain for a traditional public use such as an oil pipeline does not violate the Iowa Constitution or the United States Constitution simply because the pipeline passes through the state without taking on or letting off oil,” the court wrote.
Dakota Access LLC filed documents in 2014 with the Iowa Utilities Board informing the board of its plan to build an underground pipeline across Iowa, spanning from the northwest corner of the state to the southeast corner, passing through 18 counties, including Boone and Story counties.
A few months later, Dakota Access filed a petition with the utilities board seeking authority to build the pipeline.
Opponents to the project argued that the environmental risks associated with its construction and eventual operation were too great, and the construction of the pipeline would cause long-term damage to valuable farmland.
According to the Dakota Access website, the $3.8 billion project was estimated to generate $55 million in property tax revenue for the states it transects. During the debate leading up to the construction, the company argued it had safety measures in place to detect leaks and shut them down remotely, preventing contamination.
The state sided with the Texas-based company, when in 2016, the Iowa Utilities Board issued a 159-page ruling that said the public benefits were found to include significant safety advantages of pipeline transportation of crude oil compared to the alternatives and the jobs and other economic benefits associated with construction and operation of the pipeline, projected to be at least $787 million during the construction period alone.
A group of landowners and the Sierra Club Iowa Chapter filed requests for review with the utilities board, which denied the motions. The landowners and Sierra Club filed petitions for judicial review in Polk County District Court, where the motions were also rejected.
The landowners and Sierra Club filed an appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court, where oral arguments were heard last fall.
In its majority decision with two justices dissenting, the court sided with the utility board's decision approving construction of the pipeline.
“We conclude the IUB's weighing of benefits and costs supports its determination that the pipeline serves the public convenience and necessity,” the justices wrote in the 45-page decision. “We also conclude that the pipeline is both a company 'under the jurisdiction of (the IUB) and a 'common carrier' and therefore is not barred by Iowa Code … from (using) eminent domain.”
The court also said the Utility Board's resolution of claims by two landowners “was supported by the law and substantial evidence.”
Landowners LaVerne Johnson, who owns land in Boone County, and Keith Puntenney sought to have the pipeline rerouted around the property claiming construction would cause irreparable harm to their land and farm operations. Johnson passed away in April.
Bill Hanigan, an attorney for Davis Brown, said the court's decision is a “disappointment for our clients, but also for all Iowa landowners.”
“This sets a precedent for wealthy developers seizing Iowa farmland for private measures that bring no measurable benefit to Iowans,” Hanigan said in an emailed statement.