Trespassing case could test state pipeline investigation law

By Jared Strong

A land surveyor for Summit Carbon Solutions is facing a criminal trial in December for alleged trespassing on land in northwest Iowa that is part of the company’s proposed route for the carbon dioxide pipeline, according to the court records.

State law allows surveys — without the threat of a trespassing charge — after hazardous liquids pipeline companies held project briefings and sent a notice to landowners.

Surveys are intended to help determine the path and depth of potential pipelines.

“Right now we’re on the farmer’s side because I don’t know who’s been told and who hasn’t, and that’s their property,” the Dickinson County Sheriff said. Greg Baloon. “If you’ve been asked to leave, you’re supposed to leave, otherwise it’s trespassing.”

The criminal charge stems from an attempt to survey farmland east of Spirit Lake in August, court records show.

Jeff Jones, a nephew of the landowner, has farmed this land for decades. He raises crops and livestock with his two adult sons.

Jones fears the pipeline – which would cut a path of about a kilometer through the property – could disrupt drainage pipes in fields and hamper crop yields. But that’s not the main problem.

“I’m more upset that they think they can do whatever they want and take whatever they want,” he said.

The threat of eminent domain threatens scores of landowners across the state. The summit seeks to build approximately 680 miles of hose in the northwestern half of the state that would transport captured carbon dioxide away from ethanol plants. Two other companies want to build similar pipelines.

Reluctant landowners may be forced to grant companies easements to install and maintain pipelines. Summit said it has entered into voluntary easement agreements for about half of its route.

Summit wants to hold a final hearing on its pipeline permit in March, according to its proposed schedule to the Iowa Utilities Board, which decides whether to issue a permit and grant eminent domain requests. The company seeks a final order from the board of directors in June.

The state’s Office of the Consumer Advocate opposes the proposed timeline, according to a recent IUB filing.

“Given the scope of the project proposed by Summit and the novelty of carbon dioxide pipelines in Iowa, it is important not to rush to establish a procedure before Summit has prepared the information necessary to evaluate the pipeline and its route,” wrote consumer advocate Jennifer Easler.


Iowa Public Utilities Commission Filing

The charge of trespassing

Summit first sought to survey land in Dickinson County in March, said Jones, the farmer. He told the surveyor to leave and that he would file a trespassing complaint if the company officers returned.

Jones and the landowner rejected all posted notices of the polls sent by Summit, he said.

On August 24, a team of five officers were preparing to survey the grounds when Jones’ father spotted them and approached them. He called Jones, who was about six miles away. Jones said he drove to the site and passed four of the investigators, who he said were hastily leaving in vehicles. He called the sheriff’s office.

“In my mind – if the four were running away like that – that tells me they were wrong,” he said.

There was one left: Stephen James Larsen, 28, of Arlington, South Dakota. He was charged with misdemeanor trespassing, which carries a $354 fine.

Jones said Larsen refused to reveal the names of fellow surveyors when asked by a sheriff’s deputy.

Larsen’s trial has been delayed and is now set for December 8, according to court records.

“No laws were broken and we expect these charges to be dismissed in the near future,” said Courtney Ryan, spokeswoman for the Summit.

Ryan said the company followed the investigative procedure mandated by state law and left the property when asked.

“To be 100% clear, there was no intrusion into this situation,” she said.

The Dickinson County District Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting the criminal charge, did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Summit has three ongoing trials against other landowners who refused to allow the company to survey their land in northern Iowa, according to court records. Iowa law permits court-ordered injunctions to conduct investigations without interference from the landowner.

The landowners in these ongoing cases – as well as those sued by another pipeline company, Navigator CO2 Ventures – argue that forced investigations violate on their constitutionally protected property rights.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of the States Newsroom, a network of similar news offices supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity.

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