Pipeline woes continue
ROCKWELL CITY – Landowners fed up with pipeline construction crews turned to the Calhoun County Board of Supervisors for help Tuesday, claiming the workers are damaging their land.
It wasn’t clear there was anything the board can do.
In fact, after the hour-long meeting, it wasn’t clear anyone could do a thing to stop the Precision Pipeline contractors working for Dakota Access LLC if they are, in fact, doing anything wrong.
Five landowners brought their concerns to the board and to Evan Del Val, project manager for the engineering firm which provides inspectors to oversee the work in 13 counties.
One of the primary concerns was that pipeline crews had worked during heavy rain, leaving deep ruts in the subsoil.
Del Val has previously stated work can continue in the rain if topsoil has been removed. But the landowners said compaction of the subsoil would be so severe when working in the recent wet weather that they weren’t convinced it would be fixed.
Del Val can’t force work to stop, even if there is a violation.
His firm, ISG of Des Moines, issues violations when they are noted, but can’t physically stop work, he said.
“Just so everyone understands what the terminology means, we have the violation process,” Del Val said. “We don’t take keys away, we don’t take machinery away. If the pipeline decides they’re going to deal with whatever ramifications come from the inspection firm fighting them on being in the field doing construction, they’re going to do that.”
The Texas-based Dakota Access has been building a 1,168-mile, 30-inch diameter pipeline from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa to a processing hub in Illinois.
The meeting was called in part due to a letter from Bill Hanigan, the Des Moines attorney representing Ken Anderson, of Somers, and numerous other landowners along the route.
“His main concern at that time was the trash and other things the landowners felt the pipeline was leaving in their area they were working,” Calhoun County Attorney Tina Meth-Farrington said. “They feel this is unacceptable.”
Anderson said the crews have left large metal rings, chunks of metal, and pieces of wood in his field, which are now being pushed deeper into the soil every time crews drive through.
“There are dozens of these things buried,” Anderson said. “There are hundreds of chunks of steel like this getting mashed into the ground. You tell me how this is not going to slash my tires and get into my equipment, and mess up my farm equipment.”
Brant Leonard, an attorney for the pipeline, also sent a letter explaining that cleanup hasn’t begun yet, and assuring that everything will be done according to the plan, Meth-Farrington said.
The first rough grading is set for Oct. 19, Del Val said, and final cleanup is not until the end of November.
But Anderson said cleanup won’t be possible if the junk is buried – and an argument briefly ensued.
“They keep pushing the trash deeper and deeper,” Anderson said. “You have not expressed any concern.”
“I haven’t expressed concern because they’re not at the point where they do that yet,” Del Val said. “This is like complaining about not putting the shingles on a roof that hasn’t been placed on a house yet.”
“You’re telling me it’s perfectly acceptable to bury all this trash and debris on the ground,” Anderson said.
“I don’t think that’s even remotely close to what I said,” Del Val replied.
Anderson told the board they were the only ones left with authority to stop the pipeline.
“We feel you guys are our last line of defense to tell Dakota Access enough is enough; stay off our private land when it’s muddy,” Anderson said. “Let’s get the rocks picked up, let’s get the metal picked up as much as possible, and let’s get a neutral party to come in and inspect that ground before the topsoil is returned.”
The board doesn’t have that authority, Del Val said.
“What can we do?” Supervisor Gary Nicholson asked.
“I have not researched it, so I can’t answer your question,” said Meth-Farrington. “Right now the people with the authority to do something are Evan and his company.”
Del Val said he has more than 30 inspectors overseeing the pipeline.
“We have numerous examples of where we have required them to do additional cleanup on areas where we didn’t think they hit it,” he said.
Inspectors base their work on Iowa code, the Agricultural Impact Mitigation Plan passed by the Iowa Utilities Board, and any private contract landowners may have with the company, Del Val said.
“That’s what we inspect to,” he said. “I can’t extend my authority to an area we don’t have.”
Inspectors also check if soil has been decompacted sufficiently, and don’t allow them to spread topsoil if it’s not, Del Val said.
“We have numerous notices of violation for that particular situation in place,” he said.
Kim Martin, who lives near Rockwell City, said two violations in Calhoun County were on his property.
“The only reason they were wrote up was I was out there for four days, with my combine stopped, arguing and fighting and finally they caved in,” Martin said.
He claimed the inspector wouldn’t stand up to the pipeline workers.
“He has to work with those guys on the pipeline every day. He’s not going to raise any stink,” Martin said.
Martin also said when the inspector told workers to stop, they only did so when he was there, with some crews returning the moment the inspector left to check on other crews.
Del Val disputed the characterization, saying his inspectors would have filed a notice of violation regardless of being “pushed” by Martin.
Phillips had similar complaints about the inspector.
He did nothing – “Just sat there and smiled,” Phillips claimed.
“He said he wasn’t going to walk back there and look at it. I said, ‘Fine, let’s get in your truck and drive back,’ and he said, ‘I’m not driving back there,” she said. “I said, that’s what you’re here for.'”
Phillips said, “We call, we tell you what is going on and we get no result.”
Nicholson agreed this was a problem.
“You work for us,” Nicholson said. “So why aren’t they doing the job? It sounds to me like this guy isn’t doing his job. Why are they out there working in the mud?”
“I will absolutely follow up. I don’t have an answer right now,” Del Val said. “To the degree that is an accurate statement, yes that is disconcerting. I have no reason to think it’s not an accurate statement.”
Joan Ramthun said her family hasn’t been able to access part of its land.
“We can’t harvest our corn two places because they’ve piled the dirt in front of our property. That’s thousands and thousands of dollars, and it’s just sitting there,” Ramthun said.
“Absolutely you need to be able to get to your crops in a timely manner,” Del Val said. “If you let me know what tracts those are, I will contact them for access, because we have had that all across the state.”
Phillips said she also has had access problems, as well as the problems with rutting and working in the rain.
“We would not take our equipment into a field in these wet conditions,” Phillips said. “Everything these gentlemen have said today, I have experienced.”
Del Val pointed out that he does work for the supervisors.
“We do work for you,” Del Val said. “If we are not fulfilling our obligation to this board, by all means tell us to do our job differently.”
Supervisor Mike Cooper said, “It does seem like they are pushing it pretty hard, concerning the wet ground.”
“I don’t disagree with that,” Del Val said.
Cooper continued, “And it seems to me you need to as an inspector exercise your authority, and if it is too wet, if they are out there when they shouldn’t be out there, you’re going to have to stop them.”
Not only is there no way to stop crews from working, Anderson said, but landowners get threatened with arrest if they impede the work – even if they believe work is going on illegally.
“It sounds to me like your inspectors are trying to do their jobs, and Dakota Access might be short-cutting them,” Meth-Farrington said. ”To the effect that you guys write up the violation reports, and they keep working.”
“Yes,” Del Val said.
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