DES MOINES — Legislation making it more difficult for private companies to acquire access to private property through condemnation cleared two subcommittee Tuesday and appears to be on the fast track in both the House and Senate.
Subcommittees in both chambers signed off on Senate Study Bill 1276 to change the process for private companies to build underground pipelines and overhead transmission lines. It grows out of concern and frustration with two specific projects: the Rock Island Clean Line, that would carry electricity across the state, and the Bakken oil pipeline, which would go through 17 Iowa counties as part of a connection between oil fields in North Dakota and Pakota, Illinois.
The companies behind those projects told a House-Senate subcommittee on the bill they intend to get voluntary easements on 90 percent of the property they need. Neither is close to that goal and landowners say they are resisting often heavy-handed attempts to get them to sign easements.
The bill, according to House Government Oversight Committee Chairman Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, would require projects be recommended in the Iowa Economic Development Authority’s annual energy report and that proponents to pay attorney fees for landowners who cannot afford their own attorneys It would prohibit companies from telling landowners that unless they sign voluntary easements their land will be condemned and they will be paid less for their land.
In addition, SSB 1276 would require companies to get voluntary easements from 75 percent of the landowners in the path of their projects before the Iowa Utilities Board would consider a request for condemnation.
Arguments in favor of the bill ran from protecting the environment and farmland from damage caused by pipeline construction to concerns about private companies being allowed to use eminent domain to acquire private property.
Opponents also said the lines serve no public purpose because they carry electricity and oil through Iowa, but not to Iowa.
Arguing against SSB 1276, Energy Transfer Partners’ representative Jeff Boeyink said the bill amounts to changing the rules in the middle of the game to specifically stop the oil pipeline project.
Kaufmann did not disagree, but countered that “the current game doesn’t have the right rules for these projects.”
He hopes to win committee approval for the bill later this week. The Senate Government Oversight Committee deferred action Tuesday afternoon because the bill was not ready for consideration, Chairman Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, said.