By Scott Galindez
he pipe has been laid, the damage to their land has already occurred, but yesterday the landowners finally got their day in court. They are arguing that the Iowa Utilities Board violated the law by granting permits to Dakota Access to drill on their lands. Pipeline fighters packed the courtroom and filled the hall outside the courtroom during the hearing. Following the hearing they marched in single digit, frigid temperatures and rallied in support of the landowners who have not given up the fight.
The farmers argue that the pipeline will not provide an economic benefit to Iowa so Iowa Utility Board erred in using eminent domain to force them to allow Dakota Access to carve up their land for an oil pipeline.
Keith Puntenney, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, told RSN that the principle of the case is “We believe that private landowners should not have their land taken by a private corporation.” He also said, “The pipeline provides no goods or services to the people of Iowa so eminent domain should not have been used to take our land.”
The Iowa Utilities Board is arguing that since the pipeline is already in the ground, the lawsuit is moot. Puntenney responded to their claim by arguing, “The pipe can be pulled out, and there is no oil running through it, and even if there was it doesn’t make it right. The rule of law is what we think is important. If it wasn’t lawful for them to put the pipeline in the ground they should pay damages…. We believe in the rights of private property owners to determine how they are going to use their own land. We don’t believe another private company should be able to come in and tell us how they are going to use our property.”
If the landowners win, they’ll be seeking damages separately. One of the landowners’ attorneys, Bill Hannigan, suggested that Dakota Access should be charged for any oil that will travel through his clients’ proprieties via the pipeline.
Polk County District Court judge Jeffery Farrell says he hopes to issue his decision as soon as possible. Both parties agree that any ruling will almost certainly be appealed.
Following the hearing, landowners and their supporters braved frigid temperatures to march and hold a rally. Steve Higginbottom, a landowner, told the crowd that it is the politicians and Dakota Access that are responsible. He defended the workers as people who were just doing their job. Higginbottom also expressed disbelief that “a Texas oil company has been allowed to come through and gash our state catty-corner across the whole thing.” He went on to say it was explained to him a long time ago that “it’s easier for the pipeline companies to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.”
Christene Novis, a Native American who has lived in Iowa for the past 10 years, compared what is happening to the landowners to colonization. “This act is an act of colonization. It has not stopped, it has only manifested in a different form. It has manifested itself into the black snake. It no longer discriminates who it attacks. It no longer only attacks indigenous people. It is now attacking the settlers of this land.” Novis went on to say that her people “will not let anyone else experience the atrocities that her people went through. It is time to draw a line in the sand.”
Jonas Magram, of the Sierra Club, which also has a lawsuit pending against the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB), told the crowd, “Last March the IUB threw the health and safety and the future of Iowans under the bus. We are here today to say one message above all, it is time to end putting profits over people! The IUB kowtows to our conservative money-grubbing governor. It is time for us to take back our future.”
Ed Fallon, of Bold Iowa, said that no matter what the outcome of the lawsuits is, they would continue to stand with the landowners and fight for them.
Scott Galindez attended Syracuse University, where he first became politically active. The writings of El Salvador’s slain archbishop Oscar Romero and the on-campus South Africa divestment movement converted him from a Reagan supporter to an activist for Peace and Justice. Over the years he has been influenced by the likes of Philip Berrigan, William Thomas, Mitch Snyder, Don White, Lisa Fithian, and Paul Wellstone. Scott met Marc Ash while organizing counter-inaugural events after George W. Bush’s first stolen election. Scott came to Iowa to cover the 2016 caucus and is now living in Des Moines.
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