Dakota Access pipeline loses in a side show in Sioux Falls

By Barry Amundson

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — While a major decision on the four-state Dakota Access pipeline looms in Iowa on Thursday, there was a sideshow and surprise Tuesday night in Sioux Falls where the city council first denied an easement for the pipeline to run near the city’s landfill west of town and then reconsidered late in the meeting to approve it.

The council rejected the easement 4-3 in the first vote but later approved it 6-1.

The decision came after city council members said they had received reports of strong-arm tactics by pipeline company employees with landowners over obtaining surveying rights and easements and questioned the use of eminent domain and if $10 million in insurance offered by the company was enough in case there was a leak into the landfill.

City public works director Mark Cotter and assistant city attorney Diane Best recommended approval of the pipeline and thought there was adequate protection for the city. Mayor Mike Huether said it was only a 25 foot by 730 foot easement and that the discussion shouldn’t delve into statewide concerns about the project that has already been approved by three states, including South Dakota utility regulators. Only Iowa approval remains.

After questioning by council member Greg Jamison, Best said the denial of the easement would have meant Dakota Access would either have have to re-route the pipeline away from the landfill or proceed to court for a condemnation or eminent domain hearing.

But the reconsideration changed those possibilities.

In the later vote, the council said they wanted Dakota Access to prove that it could be good neighbors to the city’s neighbors.

Dakota Access Vice President for Engineering Joey Mahmoud tried to soothe over some of the council concerns in the meeting by saying that landowners statewide were given full market value easements and that only seven tracts of land out of 500 were not settled yet. That meant that 92.7 percent of easements in South Dakota were finalized with others nearly finished bringing the total to near 99 percent.

One of those who is waiting for final approval of her easement and who has been leading opposition to the 272 miles of pipeline in South Dakota was the only member of the public to speak at the council meeting.

Peggy Hoogestraat, a landowner who has intensely studied the 30-inch, 1,134-mile long pipeline, told the council she wanted them to know some of the issues still surrounding the planned pipeline running from the Bakken oilfields of western North Dakota, through South Dakota, Iowa and finally to Illinois where it can be transported to refineries using other pipelines.

The farmer from near Chancellor, a small town southwest of Sioux Falls, said in an interview before the meeting that her easement was for 14 acres of her “prime” crop and pasture land and that the pipeline posed some added problems for her farming operation as she had just installed drain tile in late 2014 and would have a water supply for livestock cut off during construction.

Hoogestraat, who said she has a stack 6 feet high of documents in her home on the project and has attended several meetings and hearings, wanted the City Council to know that some landowners say they were mistreated by the company that was “less than truthful” in talks with landowners and that negotiations were “very difficult and expensive.”

 “I grew up as a child on this land and it’s really hard for me and other family farmers and landowners to see this happen,” Hoogestraat said before the meeting. “I know many others in the same situation.”

She also questioned the property tax money the company said it will pay once the project is done and whether the reclamation of the land it crosses will be done correctly.

Hoogestraat told the council she doesn’t think the pipeline will provide any real benefit to the people of South Dakota as is already evidenced now with cheap gas that prices are more determined by supply and demand. She also said with Congress approving oil exports, the North Dakota product could be hauled directly out of the country and that South Dakota would just be a pathway.

She said she’s mostly concerned about the next generation that may have to face leaks and spills from the pipeline.

At the council meeting, however, Mahmoud said there were nine valves on the pipeline in the Sioux Falls area with sensors that could determine a problem in nine minutes. It was also noted that the pipeline would be buried four feet under ground — more than federal requirements — and that a city landfill monitoring well near the pipeline would also help to detect any possible leak.

Mahmoud also told the council that if the pipe is maintained properly it could “last forever.”

Now it’s onto Iowa. Hoogestraat said even if the Iowa Utilities Board approves the project Thursday, it may not be the end of the road with possible lawsuits.

The Iowa board, which has already started public hearings on the pipeline that would run 346 miles through 18 counties in Iowa, has stated it will make a decision Thursday.

The hearing resumes at 1 p.m. and more testimony is expected.

If a permit is granted, Dakota Access will be allowed to construct, maintain and operate the pipeline in the state.

In its selling points for the project, Dakota Access said the pipeline will allow domestically produced the North Dakota light sweet crude oil to reach major refining markets in a more direct, cost-effective, safer and environmentally responsible manner. The pipeline will also reduce the use of rail and truck transportation to move Bakken crude oil by carrying 450,000 barrels per day — with a capacity as high as 570,000 barrels per day or more – which could represent about half of the Bakken’s current daily crude oil production.

Excerpt via Bismark Tribune

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