March 07, 2021

Hitting the pavement

Landowners share pipeline concerns with former Iowa lawmaker

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MINGO — Kathy Holdefer knows how to host a community meeting — with homemade blueberry and pumpkin pie.

Kathy and her husband Tom own a two-story farm house which sits on one acre of land in Mingo, and in the slated path of the proposed Dakota Access Bakken Oil Pipeline. They hosted Saturday’s public meeting at the Mingo Community Building to discuss potential impacts of the project.

Holdefer coordinated the meeting with the arrival of Ed Fallon, the former Democratic state representative and radio host of “The Fallon Forum.” The now-political activist has been breaking in his new shoes, walking the length of proposed pipeline.

Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners proposed the project in 2014 which would lay a 1,134-mile, 30-inch diameter oil pipeline connecting the North Dakota Bakken and Three Forks oil fields with refineries and pipeline hubs Patoka, Ill. Approximately 33.73 miles of the proposed 343.43 mile Iowa segment is planned through Jasper County.

Fallon began his trip at the southern most edge of the pipeline on March 2 in Lee County and has been making his way north, knocking on doors and holding public meetings on the potential safety, environmental and private property issues of the proposed project. Fallon said he has slowed his trip to make contact with more people along the route, and Saturday made stops in Newton, Reasnor and Mingo.

Holdefer said many of her neighbors have the impression that the pipeline is a “done deal.” At the community building she posted examples of letters in favor and against the project submitted to the Iowa Utilities Board — a three-member bipartisan panel appointed by the governor that will decide the fate of the pipeline. Holdefer also pinned maps of the proposed pipeline route to encourage the 10 area residents and landowners in attendance to get involved.

“I just want to encourage everybody to get people to learn about this and express their views which ever way they feel,” she said. “The utilities board is not hearing information from the people that should be giving them information. ... That scares me that people are just going to let something happen without knowing what the implications are.”

Fallon said he’s concerned that many of the rural landowners with whom he’s spoken during his trip have heard only one point of view on the pipeline — making contact with representatives from Dakota Access but not members of the Bakken Pipeline Resistance group or opposing lawmakers.

During a round-table discussion with three citizen at Uncle Nancy’s Coffee Shop in Newton Saturday morning, Fallon said property rights — an area where Iowa Democrats and Republicans have historically agreed — could still bring a win for those against the pipeline’s construction.

“I think there’s a really good chance that it won’t happen,” Fallon said. “A lot of people are opposed to it.”

Fallon said he’s basing his opinion from testimonials he’s heard from landowners. At the Mingo meeting, Fallon said his anecdotal accounts appear to differ from a recent Iowa Poll conducted by The Des Moines Register which found 57 percent of Iowans polled are in favor of the project. But that same poll also found 74 percent of the same sample oppose IUB authorized use eminent domain to obtain the private property to build the pipeline.

“People are not for this. Many of them feel almost compelled to sign the contract. Dakota Access has hired some very slick salesmen. I heard yesterday they hired a used car salesman from Des Moines to sell this. We have car salesmen out there trying to sell a pipeline. They’re very slick.”

Fallon said some landowners he’s encountered have already been paid by Dakota Access for easements on their property months before the IUB holds the final hearing on the project or issues a permit for construction. Fallon accuses the pipeline company of convincing landowners they will not get as much money for their property easements if they wait for the use of eminent domain.

“They don’t even have the authority yet to use eminent domain and (Dakota Access) is already holding it over people’s heads,” Fallon said. “Where’s this notion come from that you won’t get a fair shake if it goes to eminent domain. When I was in the legislature we added clarity to the process where a local compensation commission is empowered to help negotiate a fair price. It’s intimidation.”

Rep. Dan Kelley (D-Newton) has been supporting Fallon on the Jasper County leg of his trip, and has sat in as guest host of “The Fallon Forum.” He said during Saturday’s meetings he and Fallon differ when it comes to the prospects of stopping the pipeline’s development. Although he openly opposes the project, Kelley has turned his focus to mitigating the environmental impact of the project.

“I have resigned myself to the idea that this probably will happen,” Kelley said. “I’m just trying to be realistic. That’s why I’m making the effort to make sure the environment is part of the decision because that has to be handled correctly.”

The Jasper County Democrat co-authored a letter with Rep. Charles Isenhart (D-Dubuque) filed with the IUB March 5, urging the panel to require an independent environmental impact assessment before offering or denying a permit to construct the pipeline and have Dakota Access foot the bill. The letter is signed by 12 Democrats and three Republicans — including Jasper/Marion County Rep. Greg Heartsill (R-Columbia). The coalition cites what they see as “numerous issues that merit investigation.” This includes direct impacts of potential damage to land, water, soil air and wildlife habitat during construction, as well as threats to farmland and public health as the result of an oil spill.

The letter also raises indirect impacts the project could have such as increased carbon dioxide and methane emissions released into the atmosphere. Although there is no direct mention to the terms “climate change” or “global warming” in the correspondence.

Fallon told landowners and interested parties in Mingo he still feels the best way to influence the project’s development is to write the IUB and to pressure the legislature. Wilton Republican Bobby Kaufmann, chairman of the House Government Oversight Committee, has introduced a funnel-proof bill to limit the IUB’s ability to use eminent domain in the pipeline and clean line projects.

Currently, ETP only has $250,000 of liability insurance for oil cleanup on the Iowa portion of the project, which is baseline coverage required by the federal government. This is something that Mingo landowner Theresa Weeg referenced Saturday and was mentioned in a letter Fallon is distributing to people on his trek.

The IUB has still not set a date for the final public meeting that, by Iowa Code, will be held in the town closest to the geographic center of the pipeline. Once that final meeting is held, the 3-member panel will either grant a permit to Dakota Access or deny the project.

Fallon will continue his walk this week and plans to attend a public meeting March 18 public meeting at the Ames Public Library.

Contact Mike Mendenhall at