Chronicle Editorial


The Iowa pipeline predicament


                A proposed underground oil pipeline cutting through the heart of Iowa has sent landowners throughout the state scrambling to address this surprising development in recent weeks. Advocates claim the project will create jobs and promote America’s goal of energy independence, but don’t be fooled – the pipeline faces a drawn out, tooth and nail fight from Iowa property owners and environmentalists in the coming months and years.

     According to a report in the Des Moines Register, the pipeline would begin in North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields and cut through South Dakota before reaching the Hawkeye State. The proposed Iowa route would start in Lyon County and continue on a diagonal path to southwest Iowa. It would carry a type of crude oil – around 320,000 barrels a day – en route to a transfer station in Illinois. The Texas-based company behind the project has only informed landowners along the proposed route about the plan, and has yet to file the proper petitions with the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) for regulatory review, the newspaper’s report stated.

     The proposed route excludes Franklin County, and we can be thankful for that. This pipeline could to become one of state’s most contentious issues and our county should feel lucky it was spared from the impending drama. Environmentalists will raise a fuss over the project, but its biggest opponents will come from landowners and farmers. If the IUB approves the project, the company will be allowed to use eminent domain and obtain access to properties along the route because the pipeline will, according to its developers, fulfill a public use. Whether or not that’s true will be debated at length and determined by the IUB in the coming months. However, one has to look no further than our own state to find a comparable battle raging over eminent domain.

     A project dubbed Rock Island Clean Line (RICL) would build 375 miles of overhead power lines carrying electricity from O’Brien County wind farms to Chicago and other eastern locations. It would cut through north central Iowa before dropping down and heading eastward to Illinois through Scott County along the border. Its developers are seeking approval from the IUB, but they’ve faced heavy pushback from landowners along the route. Thousands of farmers and other property owners have refused to sign easements that would allow construction of power line towers on their land, and many fear the company will be granted eminent domain privileges to complete the project.

     Opponents to RICL have many valid points. Farmers believe construction of power line towers would hinder crop production and lead to soil compaction, which could reduce future crop yields in the easement zones. However, most landowners simply don’t like the idea of a company coming in, taking their land and using it for profit. Yes, eminent domain statutes require the intruding entity to pay fair market value for the land, but that doesn’t really matter to those fighting RICL. Many people along the proposed route don’t want to cede land that’s been in their families for generations, and that’s understandable.

     Response to the proposed oil pipeline will most likely mirror that seen from RICL. The project will create temporary jobs and stimulate Iowa’s economy, but the likelihood of its construction is a tossup right now. Some landowners may not like the idea of a pipeline buried in their ground while others might not care. The state already has a handful of underground pipes running through it and they seem much less obtrusive than giant power lines sticking out from the ground. Nonetheless, environmental impact, landowner rights and other issues will no doubt play huge factors in this debate. Some lawmakers and pipeline advocates may laude the project at face value, but it’s clear more information is needed before Iowa jumps aboard the crude oil gravy train.