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IUB: No liaison necessary for pipeline complaints

By Staff | Sep 30, 2016

Construction has begun in Webster County on the Dakota Access Pipeline. This construction zone is on 370th Street, just off Lainson Avenue, near Harcourt.

By JOE SUTTER

jsutter@messengernews.net

FORT?DODGE – Iowa rulemakers will not appoint a public liason officer to handle complaints about construction of an oil pipeline through the state, rejecting a request from pipeline opponents.

The Iowa Utilities Board issued its decision at its regular montly meeting this week, disagreeing with Sierra Club and the Science and Environmental Health Network who claimed there is no effective way to address complaints about the Dakota Access Pipeline.

“Establishing an Iowa Public Liaison Officer would add another step to the complaint process without adding value,” the board wrote in its order, “when there are already multiple options for overseeing construction and filing complaints. In addition, requiring a landowner to contact a Public Liaison Officer, could delay resolution of a complaint while construction is in progress.”

Sierra Club provided documents showing an exchange between the company and the county inspectors watching the pipeline work, where inspectors claim the company worked improperly in the rain.

The club claimed this exchange and five other emailed complaints show that “landowners have not had positive experiences with the county inspector/county supervisor process to deal with construction violations.

“That process is clearly not working,” attorney Wallace Taylor wrote for the club in a filed statement.

Dakota Access, a subsidy of Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, is building a 30-inch pipeline across the state as part of a four-state project, and has drawn criticism from environmental groups and from landowners opposed to its use of eminent domain.

South Dakota has already established a Public Liaison Officer, Sierra Club and SEHN said in their Aug. 15 filing. Such an officer could ensure enforcement of the board’s rules, they wrote.

“Although County Inspectors have been designated pursuant to Iowa Code 479B.20, the inspectors must work through the county Boards of Supervisors, who must then take action with the Iowa Utilities Board,” they wrote. “But because Dakota Access has threatened the County Supervisors with protracted and expensive litigation, the Supervisors are reluctant to take any action. Landowners and the public thus have no effective process for enforcing the AIMP (agricultural impact mitigation plan) and the Board’s Order.”

Dakota Access’s response said the two groups’ argument “relies on false statements of law and fact.”

“Their motion is an attempt to insert themselves into a construction process that is taking place on land they do not own and have no interest in,” the company said. “(The motion) is yet another effort to further their goal to delay and increase the costs of the project to Dakota Access, to the benefit of no one.”

The IUB said in its written order that two different methods can be used for complaints.

People can contact the board’s customer service section, after which board staff will investigate the claim and an informal complaint or formal complaint process may begin.

The second option is to submit a formal complaint in the board’s electronic filing system, as described on page 11 in its April 28 order found at http://is.gd/IUBcomplaintprocedure.

County inspectors have been hired in each county to oversee construction and make sure all rules are followed, the board added.

IUB staff have received and are tracking 16 or 17 instances of communication which are either complaints or “have the characteristics of a complaint,” said David Lynch, IUB general counsel, at the monthly meeting.

Six have been resolved, and two are nearly resolved, Lynch said. Two are cases where county supervisors have asked for more interpretation of the rules, and six or seven are allegations of construction in wet conditions, not always by an affected landowner. The latter will be investigated as “general correspondence,” and turned into an official complaint file if appropriate, he said.

Staff told the board that they investigate these immediately, since construction work advances quite quickly.

And staff continue to monitor more general complaints which don’t lead to further action, Lynch said, such as one received this week from six people in Italy concerned about the ecological impact of a pipeline.

“We review them all,” he said.

Sierra Club provided documents seeming to show work continued in wet conditions in Keokuk County even after county inspectors ordered it to stop.

Two locations were named in the county.

“Our field inspector documented that Precision Pipeline was performing construction activities, including running bulldozers and tractor trailers along the right of way in locations that were not properly stripped of topsoil and were wet from recent storms,” wrote Evan Del Val, project manager for ISG, in a letter to Dakota Access which was filed with the board by Sierra Club.

ISG is the firm inspecting construction in 13 counties including Webster and Calhoun.

“Rutting from the machinery and skid baskets caused mixing of topsoil and subsoil,” Del Val wrote. “The contractor was directed by ISG to stay off the right of way. The contractor continued to work including stringing pipe along the right of way.”

The violations were noted July 20 and July 22, Del Val wrote, in the letter dated July 28 and revised Aug. 11.

Dakota Access replied that no violation had taken place, and asked ISG to provide evidence that a violation had occurred before making a statement of fact, in a letter also filed with the board by Sierra Club.

The company said topsoil was measured by soil scientists. The definition of topsoil is more complicated than can be seen by the untrained eye, and isn’t just any “black dirt,” the company wrote.

“Stripping a uniform amount suggested by the landowner that is deeper than actual topsoil depth would result in mixing of topsoil and subsoil, and could have the potential for creating detrimental impacts post-construction,” wrote attorney Brant Leonard on behalf of Dakota Access.

A letter from ISG to the Keokuk Board of Supervisors, filed by Sierra Club, noted that there was disagreement between ISG and Dakota Access about whether or not all topsoil had been removed. If it was, as the company claimed, there would be no mixing and no violation took place.

Records indicate the contractors returned and removed more topsoil on July 24, Del Val wrote.

“At this time, it is at the discretion of the Board of Supervisors to determine whether or not to commence procedures to file a petition of violations with the Iowa Utilities Board,” he wrote.

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