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Iowa landowners unite against use of eminent domain

 Domina Law managing partner Brian Jorde has a history of organizing landowners against pipeline projects. Jorde led a legal effort of Nebraska landowners against the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline project.
Courtesy of Iowa Easement Team
Domina Law managing partner Brian Jorde has a history of organizing landowners against pipeline projects. Jorde led a legal effort of Nebraska landowners against the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline project.

Iowa landowners are uniting to defend themselves against the use of eminent domain.

The newly formed Iowa Easement Team wants to stop Summit Carbon Solutions and Navigator CO2 Ventures from using eminent domain to build pipelines throughout Iowa. Hundreds of farmers in the path of the recently proposed carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) pipelines have jointly hired the Omaha-based Domina Law to lead their legal effort.

Domina Law managing partner and lawyer Brian Jorde said he believes the two companies should not have any power to use Iowans’ land without permission.

“The only way to combat that is to rise up, collectively together, make your voices heard and not be afraid to challenge the broken system,” Jorde said. “That's what we're doing.”

Earlier this month, Summit Carbon Solutions petitioned the Iowa Utilities Board for permission to use eminent domain. If granted, the company would be able to access private property without a voluntary easement and against the owners’ wishes.

The company boasts that its project could remove up to 12 million tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere each year. The 2,000 mile pipeline would run through more than 30 Iowa counties.

 The proposed Iowa route of Summit Carbon Solutions' carbon dioxide pipeline would run some 700 miles through 30 of the state's 99 counties.
Courtesy: Summit Carbon Solutions
The proposed Iowa route of Summit Carbon Solutions' carbon dioxide pipeline would run some 700 miles through 30 of the state's 99 counties.

Kathleen Hunt received a call from Summit in August that her family’s land in Hardin County was in the path of the project. Despite not wanting to disturb the land that’s been in her family for five generations, she contacted a lawyer to begin easement negotiations with the company.

It wasn’t until Hunt heard about the Iowa Easement Team’s joint legal effort that she said she had any hope of preventing her land from being used in the project. She ceased negotiations and joined the group.

“Why does a private company have a bigger say than the landowners who have had this land in their family for many generations?”
Cynthia Hansen, landowner in Shelby County

“It was a great relief, just to have the possibility that we had a chance or we had a choice,” Hunt said. “These are big companies with a lot of money and a single landowner doesn't have the means to fight against these big companies.”

Domina Law has a history of organizing landowners against pipeline projects. They filed 200 lawsuits and appeals over the course of 11 years in an attempt to stop a crude oil pipeline from being built in Nebraska.

Landowners in the coalition will split litigation costs. The initial fee to join the Iowa Easement Team is $100, according to the Iowa Easement Team’s website.

Landowner Cynthia Hansen said the legal strategy group is needed after a bill that would limit the use of eminent domain failed to advance in the legislature last week. Hansen said she feels landowners need to continue to band together despite the drawback.

“It's very frustrating. We don't feel like the legislators are listening to the needs of the farmers. We feel like they've chosen the pipeline corporations over the farmers,” said Hansen, who owns land in Shelby County in western Iowa.

 Brian Jorde of Domina Law strategizes with Nebraska landowners.
Courtesy of Iowa Easement Team
Brian Jorde of Domina Law strategizes with Nebraska landowners.

The Iowa Easement Team is also requesting a meeting with Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds. Jorde said the group’s members deserve to hear state officials' stances on eminent domain.

Hansen said she wants state lawmakers to understand their rights as property owners.

“Why does a private company have a bigger say than the landowners who have had this land in their family for many generations?”

Copyright 2022 Iowa Public Radio. To see more, visit Iowa Public Radio.