Iowa is facing an unprecedented project in the proposed Dakota Access pipeline that will stretch from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to a facility in Illinois. It traverses Iowa over the longest route possible, a diagonal from the northwest to the southeast. It crosses rivers, wetlands, and drainage districts. It threatens archaeological sites, nature trails and prime farmland. While Iowa has had many other pipelines, primarily natural gas, we’ve never had such a large pipeline carrying such a hazardous material crossing this much of our state.
The Iowa Utilities Board has authority to grant eminent domain for this crude oil company to take private land and condemn it for this pipeline. None of the oil will stay in Iowa except for that which is spilled, leaked or exploded. While all eyes are on the IUB, there are other decision-‐makers who have a say in this. Those decision-‐ makers are county boards of supervisors.
While the Iowa Utilities Board has major responsibility for decision-‐making, Counties are charged with protecting their roads and waterways. Counties actually have to give permits for the pipeline to cross any roads at an angle or cross any drainage districts.
The reason this is key is that the counties’ general liability insurance does not cover pollutants. Counties upstream of Des Moines are learning this the hard way: their insurance doesn’t cover the nitrates that come from the farms in their drainage districts and so they have no insurance to help with the Des Moines Waterworks lawsuit.
When the Dakota Access Pipeline leaks (and it will; the only questions are when and how many thousands of gallons of oil will spill) those affected downstream will sue the counties that gave permits to Dakota Access. If the insurance of those counties doesn’t cover crude oil spilled into their waterways, taxpayers will be left holding the bag.
County residents need to consider the following questions:
1) Has the county given any permits for the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross any County roads?
2) Has the county given any permits for the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross any of the Drainage Districts?
3) If the County has granted any of these permits, what special conditions were required of Dakota Access in order to protect the assets of the citizens of the County?
4) Does the County have sufficient insurance to cover any damage to its roads or spills into the waterways overseen by its Drainage District?
5) If the County does have insurance, does that insurance cover the spills or damage of “pollutants”?
County boards need to take seriously their responsibility to tax payers and residents of their counties. They need to deny permits to Dakota Access unless they have sufficient insurance to protect their citizens from the coming spills. And they need to register their concerns with the IUB and the Governor. Taking these and other steps to stop the Bakken pipeline is vital for the wellbeing of present and future generations.