Landowner says Summit’s agent threatened him with eminent domain

Source: By Jared Strong, Iowa Capital Dispatch • Posted: Thursday, August 31, 2023

Iowa Utilities Board member Josh Byrnes, shown here in a photo taken Aug. 22, oversaw the Summit Carbon Solutions hearing on Tuesday. (Photo by Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

A Cherokee County landowner claims that a carbon dioxide pipeline company’s agent pressured him explicitly with the threat of eminent domain during easement negotiations for the project.

Richard Davis ultimately declined the agreements and is now subject to eminent domain requests by Summit Carbon Solutions, which told the Iowa Capital Dispatch the agent’s alleged tactics were improper.

Tuesday’s session opened the second week of the company’s evidentiary hearing for its hazardous liquid pipeline permit application with the Iowa Utilities Board.

Davis was among five landowners who testified Tuesday. He has four land parcels in the proposed pipeline’s path where his sons tend corn, soybeans and cattle.

He said a Summit land agent attempted to persuade him to sign voluntary easements by noting that if the company sought forced easements through eminent domain, it was likely his compensation would only be “a fraction” of what the company had offered. He said the agent also told him the company was certain to succeed with its eminent domain requests.

If the IUB approves Summit’s pipeline permit and its eminent domain requests, county compensation commissions will determine how much the company will pay for the forced easements.

Those easements give perpetual permission to the company to construct and operate its pipeline on land it doesn’t own.

“Any Summit team member who is found to have pressured landowners around the possibility of eminent domain being used will be disciplined and, if such behavior continues, terminated by the company,” said Sabrina Zenor, a spokesperson for the company.

Wright County landowner Verle Tate also testified on Tuesday that agents told him: “If you don’t take this, then we’ll probably go to eminent domain, and you probably won’t get much for your land.”

That negotiation tactic has not been universal, according to landowner testimony. Elizabeth Ellis, a Wright County landowner who also testified on Tuesday, said the land agents she negotiated with did not make explicit threats about eminent domain, although she was aware her land would likely be subject to it.

The company wants to build a pipeline system in five states that would span more than 2,000 miles and would connect to ethanol plants. The system would transport captured carbon dioxide to North Dakota for underground sequestration.

More than 680 miles of that system would be built in Iowa, and the company said it has obtained voluntary easements for about 72% of the route.

The remaining part of the route that is subject to eminent domain amounts to about 950 land parcels, the IUB has said.

A total of about 40 landowners of some of those parcels were expected to testify at the start of Summit’s evidentiary hearing, which began Aug. 22 in Fort Dodge. Those landowners’ testimonies are expected to continue into next week, said Don Tormey, a spokesperson for the IUB.

After the initial landowners, Summit will present its witnesses. The remaining landowners subject to eminent domain will testify in the later part of the hearing, which could go for weeks or months.

Landowners who have testified so far have objected to the project for various reasons, including potential damage to their land and the underground tiling that drains it; the threat to public safety posed by a pipeline leak, and the use of eminent domain for a project they don’t view as a public utility.