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IA Fights to Rein in Eminent Domain

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

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DES MOINES—Iowa lawmakers are pushing back hard against eminent-domain claims by energy companies that want access to private land for their mega-projects.

Identical bills now before the State House and Senate would require private companies pursuing projects that encroach on private land to obtain voluntary deals for at least 75 percent of the land before seeking eminent-domain authority allowing them to access the rest.

Carl Wycoff / CC 2.0

"There's not that much good land across the world that can grow corn and beans like northern Iowa," said one Iowan with family farmland (not pictured) in the project's path. "So we want to preserve that."

Subcommittees in both chambers approved the bills April 28, sending them to the full chambers.

Pipeline, Power Line

The bipartisan bills take immediate aim at two projects now before the Iowa Utilities Board: a 343-mile-long Bakken oil pipeline that would affect 1,300 parcels of private property and a 500-mile-long Rock Island Clean Line overhead power line that would overlook 1,550 parcels in 16 counties.

The pipeline owners reportedly have obtained agreements with about half of the affected property owners; the power-line owners, with about 15 percent of property owners.

The power-line transmission towers, 32,000 to 40,000 pounds each, would be 110 to 150 feet high, with up to six structures per mile, according to the project website.

Shoving onto Your Property

Sponsors say they and their measures (Senate Study Bill 1276 and House Study Bill 249) are not anti-energy, anti-business or anti-progress—just pro-property rights.

SenRobertHogg RepBKaufmann
Official photos

His House bill to curb eminent-domain power is “about private property and whether private or governmental entities could forcibly shove themselves onto your property," says Democrat Bobby Kaufmann (right). The GOP's Robert Hogg (left) is sponsoring an identical Senate bill.

“It’s not about wind, it’s not about jobs, it’s not about oil,” State Rep. Bobby Kaufmann (R-Wilton) told the Associated Press.

“It’s about private property and whether private or governmental entities could forcibly shove themselves onto your property.”

Kaufmann and Senate sponsor Robert Hogg (D-Cedar Rapids) call the current projects and others on the books in Iowa a flagrant abuse of eminent-domain authority.

They note that the companies vying for authority over Iowa property are not Iowa companies. Clean Line Energy, the power-line project owner, and Bakken pipeline owner Energy Transfer are both based in Texas.

Eminent domain allows a government or government-authorized corporation to take private property for public benefit in exchange for fair-market compensation.

'Boiling Point'

Kaufmann has support for the measure from the likes of The Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance, whose members heard him out at a meeting in February.

RockIslandCleanLine TransmissionTower

Rock Island Clean Line owners say it would add up to 3,000 transmission towers and power lines (not pictured) along its 16-county, 500-mile route (marked in red above) across Iowa.

Clean Line Energy (left); Yummifruitbat / CC BY-SA 2.5 (right)

"There are numerous potential eminent-domain abuses across the state, and they're all kind of at a boiling point that need to be taken care of this session," Kaufmann told the group, according to a Des Moines Register report.

The transmission towers would sit in farmland that has been in Dave Kassel's family for decades, the news outlet reported.

"(Our land) is not really for rent," Kassel said. "It's our way of making a living, and it's valuable stuff. There's only so much of it. There's not that much good land across the world that can grow corn and beans like northern Iowa. So we want to preserve that."

John Murray of Storm Lake told a statehouse hearing last month that his mother had been pressured by land agents representing the pipeline company who wanted access to her farmland.

Energy Transfer

Texas-based Energy Transfer says it has obtained voluntary agreements with about half of the 1,300 property owners who would be affected by its Iowa pipeline (not pictured).

“We felt somewhat undersized against the oil pipeline company,” Murray testified.

Companies: Good Deals, Good Jobs

The companies are emphasizing the projects' construction jobs and say they are trying to offer reasonable deals to the landowners.

They also argue that it is unfair to "retroactively" change the eminent-domain law after their case is in process.

Hogg, the Republican sponsor of the State Senate bill, disagrees with that take.

“We need to fill the holes in Iowa’s law to make sure that we’re not turning over the power of eminent domain to private companies,” Hogg said.


Tagged categories: Government; Laws and litigation; Oil and Gas; Pipelines; Transmission Towers

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