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Passion dominates pipeline hearing

By Staff | Nov 18, 2015

The crowd stands and cheers at calls to stop the Bakken oil pipeline at a hearing Thursday in Boone. Speakers both for and against the pipeline drew loud cheers and applause from their supporters in the audience during the 8-hour hearing at the Boone County Fairgrounds.

BOONE – Property rights – and the threat of eminent domain – drew the highest emotions at an already charged hearing on the proposed Bakken oil pipeline Nov. 12 in Boone.

“We should never allow our state flag with its powerful motto, ‘Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain,’ to be used for toilet paper by billionaires sitting in ivory towers in Dallas,” said Hugh Tweedy, who is steward of a seventh-generation family farm in Montrose. “Special interests, temporary jobs and outside interests should never be more important than the rights of property owners.”

Tweedy spoke at an 8-hour public hearing before the Iowa Utilities Board at the Boone County Fairgrounds, where supporters and opponents of the proposed pipeline gave comments.

Texas-based Dakota Access LLC, wants to build a pipeline stretching 348 miles across Iowa, to move oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to Illinois.

The company has requested the right of eminent domain for any parcels where landowners will not agree to voluntary easements. Company officials say voluntary easements have been found for about 74 percent of the Iowa portion of the route.

Speakers were limited to two minutes each.

The vast majority of supporters were laborers, union men and women, union officials and other industry leaders. The majority of opponents were landowners, farmers, educators and environmentalists.

Though property rights drew the most attention, opponents also complained that the pipeline was unsafe, worried it would leak, and said Iowa should invest in clean energy instead of encouraging more fossil fuel use to avert a global climate catastrophe.

“No private property owner should have his or her land taken for the profit of a private company,” said landowner Daniel Gannon, of Ankeny. “The use of eminent domain in this case is morally wrong. Its purpose is for government projects that benefit the general public.”

Ken Martin, of Somers, said crops never grow as well after a pipeline is put in, no matter how careful people are.

“This proposed pipeline is dissecting three of our century family farms. Farms my great-grandfather, my grandfather worked for, sweated over, and did without so they would have something to pass on,” Martin said. “Driving 70 miles per hour down a road, you can’t see the crop loss from a pipeline. But walk through a field. … Come out to my farm and I can show you.”

Supporters say pipelines are much safer than transporting oil any other way. And because oil is needed in addition to renewable energy, it makes more sense to use the pipelines. Pipelines are safe, and will create good construction jobs, plus all the economic activity that comes with that.

In fact, it would be “environmental malpractice” to send oil by any method other than a pipeline, said Bill Gearhard, of Iowa City, with the Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now. Trucks and trains create much more carbon pollution when moving the same amount of oil, he said, and the risk of crashes is high.

“Just last weekend we had two rail derailments in Wisconsin. One was ethanol, the other was crude oil,” Gearhard said.

Other supporters told personal stories of seeing near derailments, or of actually having a train carrying oil fall off the track near his home.

It doesn’t matter if the jobs are “temporary,” pipeline supporters said. You could argue that a lawyer’s job or a real estate agent’s job is temporary as well.

“As a laborer, construction worker, every job is temporary; but being a laborer is a career,” said Mike Matejka, Des Moines. “You’ve got a pension. You’ve got quality healthcare. You can send your kids to school. You can pay the mortgage.

“Allowing this pipeline is not only good for the country and energy independence, it’s good jobs at a time when decent jobs are very much needed in this country.”

Jonas Magram, associated with the No Bakken coalition, said the claims of the proponents were false.

“This pipeline will contribute very little to Iowa’s economy,” he said. “It will not reduce oil being shipped by rail.

“It will not reduce dependence on foreign oil. It will be an abuse of Iowa landowner’s rights.”

Tom Ayers, of Van Meter, speaking on behalf of construction workers and their families, said most Iowans do support the project.

“The vast majority of Iowans support this project, based on a scientific poll,” he said, to audible disagreement from the audience. “This project is absolutely a public necessity.”

More than half of those signed up to speak in favor of the pipeline were from out of state; 77 of 134 speakers, or 57 percent.

Two of the 144 signed up speakers opposed to the pipeline were from out of state, or 1.4 percent.

Fewer speakers than signed up were able to make it to the meeting.

By 4:30 p.m., all supporters had spoken. By about 4:55 p.m., all opponents had spoken.

The floor was opened up for those who had not signed up. One more pipeline supporter and eight opponents spoke.

Travis Rasmussen of Rockwell City, echoed the sentiment about the land.

“I’m here today to defend my farm,” he said, “which is like trying to defend myself against a band of robbers.

“I have no intention of letting them come through my property with a pipeline.”

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