Dakota Access Disputes Questions of Pipeline Construction Violations

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In blue, the site of an electrical substation construction site owned by Consumers Energy Cooperative outside Huxley and Cambridge city limits. The parcel is surrounded by a larger one owned by Dakota Access. Image: Beacon

In response to concerns that Dakota Access LLC might be moving forward with pipeline construction efforts before complying with the conditions required in order to do so, the Iowa Utilities Board last week ordered the company to respond to the questions by Monday.

Bret Dublinske, a Des Moines attorney representing Dakota Access, did (see the full response embedded below), flatly stating that neither the clearing of trees along the crude oil pipeline’s proposed route nor Marshalltown-based Consumers Energy Cooperative’s construction work on an electrical substation near where Dakota Access plans to install a pipeline pumping station was in violation of prohibited construction activities. Furthermore, Dublinske suggested, the IUB was engaging in “improper prejudgment” by relying on “hearsay statements from casual on-lookers, speculative statements in emails, [and] impressions from general observance by neighbors of flags or the cutting of trees.” That, he argued, was “not ‘within the specialized knowledge’ of the IUB” appropriate for the board to demand a response to the concerns.

In addition to emails the IUB received about tree clearings along the pipeline’s route, it received another from Ames League of Women Voters member Linda Murken, who noted that electrical substation construction work had begun on a parcel of land in rural Story County transferred from Dakota Access to Consumers Energy Cooperative last November. Murken wrote that Kathe Breheny, vice president of corporate communications at the Des Moines-based Central Iowa Power Cooperative that has an easement on Consumers Energy Cooperative’s property, “verified in a phone conversation with me that [CIPCO and Consumers Energy Cooperative] are constructing the substation primarily to meet the needs of the pumping station which will be constructed by Dakota Access.”

Murken also attached an email she received from Breheny, in which Breheny wrote: “Dakota Access will have their contractors constructing the pumping station so we are not able to provide the exact location. Normally a pumping station would be located somewhere in the range of 50-100 feet of the substation fence. Dakota Access’ contribution to the project is confidential as they are a private corporation.”

Dakota Access still owns a larger parcel of land that surrounds the one it transferred to Consumers Energy Cooperative:

On left, highlighted, is the parcel owned by Consumers Energy Cooperative in rural Story County between Huxley and Cambridge. On right is the larger surrounding parcel still owned by Dakota Access. Images: Beacon
On left, highlighted, is the parcel owned by Consumers Energy Cooperative in rural Story County between Huxley and Cambridge. On right is the larger surrounding parcel still owned by Dakota Access. Images: Beacon

The parcel lies immediately east of Interstate 35 (the vertical blue line on the map below) and along the pipeline’s route:

The Bakken pipeline's proposed route through Story County. Image: Dakota Access
The Bakken pipeline’s proposed route through Story County. Image: Dakota Access

Dakota Access spokeswoman Vicki Granado would not confirm whether the electrical substation was being built for the pipeline pumping station, nor if Dakota Access’ adjacent parcel is where the pumping station would be installed. Echoing statements the company has previously made, she said: “We have not undertaken the building of any electrical substation on any parcel. The permit granted by the IUB is for the Dakota Access Pipeline. There is no electrical substation that is part of our project scope as defined in the docket presented to the IUB. No pipeline construction activities have begun in Iowa.”

In its order, the IUB noted that its definition of pipeline construction included “a substantial disturbance to agricultural land associated with installation, replacement, removal, operation or maintenance of a pipeline, with the exception of “work performed during an emergency.” Both of the parcels are zoned as agricultural land.

Dublinske simply argued that “the assertion that Dakota Access, a pipeline company, may be building an electrical substation is plainly false. Dakota Access is not in the business of, and has not undertaken the building of any electrical substation on any parcel.”

But Dublinske disputed the IUB’s suggestion that its definition of pipeline construction might include the clearing of trees, which he wrote was “pre-construction” work done for surveying purposes on the properties of landowners who have granted voluntary easements to Dakota Access. (Granado said that the company had reached voluntary easement agreements for 84 percent of the properties across the pipeline’s route in Iowa and 93 percent altogether across the four states it would travel.) Previous indications by the IUB as well as language in Iowa law, Dublinske added, state that tree cutting doesn’t fit the definition of construction.

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Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.