Iowa court initially sides with landowners in carbon pipeline surveying case

The ruling, released Oct. 7 by an Iowa district court, prevents representatives from the Navigator carbon pipeline project to conduct preliminary surveys on private land. The judge said that this initial action will allow the court to look into the constitutionality of an Iowa law that allows these surveys in the first place. Brian Jorde, part of the group representing the landowners, is seeking a similar ruling in a South Dakota case against Summit Carbon.

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — A district court in Iowa sided with landowners in an initial decision that allows a deeper inquiry into the constitutionality of an Iowa law that gives pipeline companies the power to complete preliminary surveys on private land without compensation beyond “actual damages.”

In Iowa, the constitutional question is whether Law 479B.15 violates part of the Iowa Bill of Rights, which states that “private property shall not be taken for public use without just compensation first being made.”

In the ruling released on Oct. 7, District Court Judge Roger Sailer writes that allowing representatives from Navigator to survey the land could mean an inability to deal with the broader constitutional question, writing that “you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.”

“The court in Iowa, in our belief, came to the appropriate conclusion, which is you can't separate the pipeline companies request for the right of entry with the constitutional challenge,” Brian Jorde, who is part of the legal team representing landowners in this Iowa case as well as in a similar case against Summit Carbon in South Dakota, said. “The way we have it teed up in South Dakota is that these matters will all be heard at the same time, in terms of the legal issues, which we think is the appropriate course.”

The Navigator pipeline, which would connect ethanol plants with large-scale carbon sequestration technology in a manner similar to Summit Carbon Solutions , would cross four states, with the majority of pipeline miles in Iowa.


In South Dakota, Jorde is representing landowners in a similar case that will be heard in district court in November. Jorde said he believes there are “lots of similarities” between the arguments and legal issues at stake in the two cases, as well as in a third case in North Dakota.

Like the Iowa law, South Dakota Law 21-35-31 allows surveys and examinations without compensation beyond “actual damages,” and, like Iowa, the South Dakota Constitution requires “just compensation for property taken.” Jorde said he has instructed the landowners he represents in South Dakota not to allow pipeline surveyors on their property, which was a key part of the reasoning in the Iowa case.

In a statement to Forum News Service, Summit Carbon said that survey work is key “to determine a route for our project that maximizes safety to the public and environment.” The company added that much of the survey work so far has been a voluntary agreement with landowners, and that in “the unlikely event the survey work impacts or damages a landowner’s property,” the company is required “to pay for any and all repairs.”

For Jorde, the temporary legal victory is a reminder that landowners have effective avenues of redress even when going up against large corporations.

“The takeaway is you have to stand up for yourself when you believe you're being taken advantage of, and if you appropriately use the laws that are there, and the court systems, then you can have victories in defending property rights,” Jorde said.

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Jason Harward is a Report for America corps reporter who writes about state politics in South Dakota. Contact him at 605-301-0496 or

Jason Harward covers South Dakota news for Forum News Service. Email him at
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