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Despite citizens’ protests

By Staff | Jun 8, 2016

Construction on a contested oil pipeline can begin in Iowa, after a 2-1 vote by the Iowa Utilities Board Monday.

The board ruled to allow Dakota Access LLC to begin construction on areas of the pipeline where all permits have been acquired, even though some portions of the pipeline still require further federal approval.

Board Chair Geri Huser voted no on approving the draft order, while Nick Wagner and Elizabeth Jacobs voted yes.

At a June 1 deliberations meeting, Huser stated her concerns that pending lawsuits have removed the board’s ability to make any changes to its March 10 final order which approved the permit.

Monday’s order will state the intent of the March 10 order has been satisfied, meaning construction can commence.

At issue Monday was the question whether construction could begin on the majority of the pipeline, even as Dakota Access awaits permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a small portion of the route that cross public waterways, including the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

Filing that paperwork with the board was one of the conditions of the board’s order on March 10 granting a permit for the pipeline in Iowa, and was agreed to by Dakota Access during hearings before the board last year.

This was to ensure the company was getting all the permits it needed, and to allow the public to access all permits in one place, the board said – not that the IUB has any authority to review other agencies’ permits. The board would merely file them.

The board’s Monday decision is not official until the order is signed by board members and placed on file, Wagner said, which will likely happen today.

Huser said her written dissent will be filed along with the order.

Dakota Access says there are about 60 parcels under U.S. ACE review in Iowa, representing only 2.5 percent of the 346-mile route.

Company spokesperson Lisa Dillinger said the company will start construction in appropriate areas as soon as possible.

“Our timeframe remains to have the pipeline in service in the fourth quarter of 2016,” Dillinger said in an email.

Construction on the 1,150-mile project by the subsidiary of Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners has already begun in Illinois, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Iowa law says once a utilities board decision is appealed to district court, the board can take no further action. To that end, environmental group Sierra Club Iowa Chapter filed a document with the board Monday alleging the board’s action is illegal. The group’s attorney, Wallace Taylor, said he may file a legal challenge.

After the June 1 meeting, case intervenor John Zakrasek complained that the board’s discussion didn’t touch on the relevant issues.

“Irreparable landowner harm was identified as the basis for any deviation from the Final Decision and Order (of March 10). It was not discussed. It must be the basis of the Board decision,” Zakrasek wrote in a letter filed Monday.

Another complication surfaced Monday involving the Native American burial site. State Archaeologist John Doershuk said in letter filed with the board that the land, which is owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, must remain undisturbed, because the site is covered by an Iowa law that maintains burial sites for ancient human remains.

Dakota Sioux tribal representatives met with state and federal authorities Friday to assess the cultural importance of the site, which Doershuk wrote is the traditional homeland for the tribe and of “significant cultural and historical importance to the Upper Sioux Community, Standing Rock Sioux tribe, and other Sioux.”

Iowa Department of Natural Resources two weeks ago revoked its permit for that portion of the pipeline in the Big Sioux Wildlife Management area, while the archaeologist made his investigation.

“An email from Dr. John Doershuk, State Archaeologist, clearly shows the existence and the importance of this archaeological site,” the Sierra Club wrote. “The fact that this site was either not discovered or not acknowledged by Dakota Access’ consultants demonstrates dramatically why Dr. Doershuk was correct when he testified that proper archaeological studies had not been done. … The discovery of this archaeological site also clearly demonstrates why the Sierra Club was correct in requesting an environmental impact study for the entire route of the pipeline.”

Pipeline opponents, including Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Bold Iowa, rallied in protest Monday afternoon at the Iowa Capitol.

“We’re here to demonstrate that this is not a done deal,” said Peter Clay, a Des Moines volunteer for the Bakken Pipeline Resistance Coalition. “We absolutely will stop construction of this pipeline wherever we can. We’ll make sure no oil ever flows through this pipeline.”

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