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Lee County landowners speak out against proposed CO2 pipeline

Landowners in southeast Iowa are speaking out against a proposed underground pipeline that would carry liquified carbon dioxide through Lee County.

“We’re all trying to keep our emotions intact, as I am, but it's a living nightmare, to sum it up,” said Jeff Weisinger, who owns 300 acres north of Fort Madison along the proposed pipeline’s path.

During an informational meeting in West Point hosted by the Lee County Board of Supervisors, Weisinger and other landowners said they are not interested in selling any of their property for the project and they do not want to lose it by force through eminent domain.

Weisinger said he and fellow landowners believe the company behind the project, Texas-based Navigator CO2 Ventures, will do what it takes to acquire the land to build the pipeline.

“This is for profit,” Weisinger said. “This is for shareholders to profit from, and I guess I need to ask for an extra $1 million, to be sarcastic about it.”

The Heartland Greenway pipeline would run through three counties in southeast Iowa: Lee, Des Moines, and Van Buren. It would also go through some counties in western Illinois, including McDonough, Knox, and Schuyler.

Chris Brown, vice president of capital projects for Navigator CO2 Ventures, said they don’t want to forcibly take property. He said property owners will be able to negotiate with them.

“Our preference is to engage in collaborative one-on-one discussions with each and every landowner,” Brown said.

“That process will start in the middle of July. We have worked up what we consider to be extremely fair and advantageous offers.”

Brown said the proposed pipeline will be buried five feet underground and will meet and exceed government safety regulations. He said the liquified product that would move through the pipeline is not combustible and would be analyzed for safety along the pipeline.

Brown also said that many landowners he has met with and spoken to are misinformed about the pipeline and its potential impact on their properties.

“I understand that they're concerned and that's why we're here,” Brown said. “We're here to be open and answer those questions. They may elect not to want to accept the answers or to challenge answers, and that's fair. And we'll continue to come out here and will continue to engage directly with the Emergency Management Services and make ourselves available for public to have these discussions, and we commit to that.”

Brown said the company wants to file applications for permits to build the pipeline by October or November and begin construction in 2024. He said the pipeline could be in operation by 2025.

However, Lee County Board of Supervisors member Ron Fedler said his constituents are not interested.

“By far, a huge majority said they don't care what they're going to offer. They don't want it,” Fedler said.

More informational meetings about the project are scheduled. The Iowa Utilities Board said it will hold them in 12 counties and will also hold a virtual meeting.

One of those gatherings will take place in Lee County. It’s scheduled to begin at noon on Thursday, September 15 at the Lee County Fairgrounds.

The Heartland Greenway pipeline would capture carbon dioxide from biofuel plants in five states – Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska, and South Dakota. The CO2 will be dehydrated and then compressed into a liquid. That liquid is considered a hazardous material – if it’s released, it converts into a gas that is heavier than air and acts as an asphyxiant.

The pipeline would span across 1,300 miles, sending that liquid to a site in south central Illinois to be stored underground.

The pipeline would transport and contain 15 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year to help biorefineries and other industries reduce their carbon emissions and their collective carbon footprint. (Editor's note: the story originally misstated the amount as 15 metric tons. TSPR regrets the error.)

Hundreds of farmers in Iowa have jointly hired a law firm to help with their legal fight against the project.

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.