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Landowner lawyer fights against eminent domain; pipeline hearings to start in South Dakota

The main trunk of Summit's Midwest Carbon Express pipeline is planned to run from Iowa through South Dakota to western North Dakota, where liquid carbon dioxide can be pumped underground for permanent storage. The prospect of eminent domain has prompted filings with the Iowa Utilities Board.

A plume emits from the Fairmont ethanol plant
The Green Plains ethanol plant in Fairmont, Minnesota, is one of 31 plants to sign on to the Summit Carbon Solutions carbon capture pipeline project.
Jeff Beach / Agweek
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MASON CITY, Iowa — As public hearings on the Summit Carbon Solutions pipeline are set to begin in South Dakota, the legal jousting over the right eminent domain has begun in Iowa.

Domina Law, a Nebraska law firm that says it has clients in all five states along the Summit pipeline route, has filed a motion in regard to what it calls Summit’s “defective filing” for a permit in Iowa, where the carbon capture pipeline would originate.

Domina attorney Brian Jorde filed the motion with the Iowa Utilities Board on behalf of George Cummins, an Iowa landowner in the path of Summit’s Midwest Carbon Express, a $4.5 billion project that intends to gather carbon dioxide from 31 ethanol plants and store it underground in North Dakota.

The motion contends that Summit should not be granted the right of eminent domain, giving it the power to force landowners to allow pipeline construction on their property, because Summit’s permit application lacks an “Exhibit H,” spelling out what property is needed.

Summit’s reply is that in the past, such as with the Dakota Access Pipeline, permit applicants have been able to add an Exhibit H to the initial permit filing and the Iowa Utilities Board will set a deadline for when that exhibit is needed.

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“Until that time, it makes no sense, and would waste the time of the Board and SCS (and needlessly alarm landowners) to file and serve numerous Exhibit Hs which would be withdrawn long before the time at which the Board really needs the Exhibit Hs to be final in order to timely process the case,” Summit’s response from attorney Bret Dublinske said.

Domina is making its filings on behalf of Cummins, of Charles City, Iowa, but Jorde says it could have been any number of landowners who are resistant to eminent domain.

In its most recent response , dated March 11, Domina said Summit needs to provide a detailed map of all the properties affected.

“Until this basic information sees the light of day in a transparent filing — as Exhibit H was intended to be — no action should be taken,” the filing said.

Summit held a series of meetings in Iowa, inviting affected landowners. Cummins was among those at the March 10 meeting in Mason City.

George Cummins
George Cummins of Charles City, Iowa, shown on March 10, 2022.
Jeff Beach / Agweek

Cummins is a former Iowa State University Extension agronomist who is among those who questions whether there is a public benefit to justify the use of eminent domain.

“The benefit is going to the investors, that’s what it's all about,” Cummins said after the meeting. “They’re going to cause permanent damage on all of this land for their benefit.”

Summit argues that farmland will return to productivity and it is offering compensation for lost yields for three years after the completion of construction, which it hopes to finish in 2024.

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Jim Pirolli, chief commercial officer for Summit Carbon Solutions, led the discussion in Mason City. On a question of whether the route could still be changed, Pirolli said land landowners were notified within a mile of either side of the route and changes might be possible within that corridor, but also that changes become more difficult as the process moves along.

Craig Woodward of Mankato, Minnesota, who still owns land in the Mason City area, noted that Pirolli indicated there were people at the meeting who had signed voluntary easements. When Woodward asked for a show of hands, Pirolli quickly commented that he didn’t think was “appropriate,” as some of the crowd chuckled.

Summit has said it is making progress on voluntary easements but has not revealed how many easements it has obtained.

But a review by Reuters showed that as of Feb. 22, the date of the most recent available filings in Iowa, Summit had recorded only 40 easements containing 68 tracts of land and covering 13.6 miles of the pipeline route.

Summit was set to do a similar round of landowner meetings in South Dakota. Then, starting on March 22, is a series of public hearings scheduled by the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission as part of the permit application process in that state.

Here is the schedule for those meetings:

Here is the schedule for the South Dakota meetings (all times Central):

Tuesday, March 22

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Sully Buttes High School Gymnasium, 500 S. Eighth St., Onida, 5:30 p.m.

Wednesday, March 23

Washington Room, Ramkota Conference Center, 3200 W. Maple St., Sioux Falls, 5:30 p.m.

Thursday, March 24

De Smet Event Center, 705 Wilder Lane, De Smet, noon

Redfield School Auditorium, 111 E. Sixth Ave., Redfield, 5:30 p.m.

Friday, March 25

Northern Room, Ramkota Hotel, 1400 Eighth Ave. NW, Aberdeen, noon

Summit SD Map by inforumdocs on Scribd

Reach Jeff Beach at jbeach@agweek.com or call 701-451-5651 (work) or 859-420-1177.
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