CHEROKEE, Iowa | Two lawsuits aimed at stopping an oil pipeline company from exercising eminent domain to obtain private land along the pipeline route were dismissed Monday, the same day hearings to determine the value of the land being sought began.
District Judge Nancy Whittenburg ruled that the landowners who filed the lawsuits do not have the right to challenge Dakota Access’ exercise of eminent domain and instead must seek a legal challenge to the Iowa Utility Board’s final order to grant the company a permit to build the pipeline.
“… IUB had the authority to make such considerations and determinations and did so. Therefore, in order to challenge these determinations addressed in the final order, interested parties are required to seek judicial review …,” Whittenburg said in her 25-page ruling, filed in Cherokee County District Court.
Last month, landowners Marvin and Bonnie Zoch and Marian Johnson, who own land in Cherokee County in the path of the pipeline, filed suits saying that Dakota Access and the pipeline developer did not meet provisions under Iowa law to use eminent domain because Dakota Access is not a utility and the pipeline is not for public use or public improvement.
Dakota Access lawyers responded that the pipeline serves a public purpose and is a utility or company under the IUB’s jurisdiction.
Whittenburg said the IUB’s final order determined that Dakota Access met those requirements to exercise eminent domain.
Bill Hanigan, a Des Moines attorney representing the landowners, could not be reached for comment.
Dakota Access spokeswoman Lisa Dillinger said the company does not comment on pending legal matters.
The lawsuits had also sought to delay county compensation commission hearings to determine the value of land being sought for the project. Those hearings began as scheduled Monday morning and are scheduled to continue through early July.
The IUB approved Dakota Access’ permit application for the $3.8 billion pipeline in March after more than a year of review. The Houston-based company plans to build a 1,168-mile pipeline that would transport up to 570,000 barrels of crude oil daily from western North Dakota’s Bakken region to a shipping terminal in Patoka, Illinois. The route stretches 348 miles through 18 Iowa counties, including Sioux, O’Brien, Cherokee, Buena Vista and Sac.
Last week, the IUB voted 2-1 to allow Dakota Access to begin construction on Iowa land where the company has all the necessary permissions.
Dakota Access said in a recent news release that it has voluntary easement agreements with landowners for almost 96 percent of the land along the four-state route. In Iowa, agreements have been reached with 87 percent of landowners.
A lawsuit filed in Polk County argues that the Iowa Utility Board shouldn’t have approved the use of eminent domain for property along the route.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is reviewing the project because it crosses the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, has yet to grant permits for the project.
Work on the project is being delayed in Lyon County, where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has notified the Iowa Department of Natural Resources that it has revoked a construction permit for a segment of the pipeline over concerns that the pipeline route may disrupt ancient Indian tribal burial grounds.