Board continues to decipher pipeline legalities

The Montgomery County Board of Supervisors, at its Sept. 20 meeting, agreed to pursue assistance from the Iowa State Association of Counties.
Supervisor Donna Robinson said she and other supervisors had received an email from ISAC containing a survey to fill out. The survey was gauging support for ISAC intervention in the pipeline project.
“ISAC is surveying membership to determine interest in petitioning the Iowa Utilities Board to intervene in the dockets for the applications with proposed hazardous liquid pipelines by Summit Carbon Solutions,” Robinson said. “This action would allow the association to participate as a party to the proceedings by the carbon pipeline company before the Iowa Utilities Board, and allow the association to request information from the pipeline company, submit evidence and make requests of the Iowa Utilities Board.”
Robinson also stated that all would be done through legal counsel obtained by the association, and would be an addition to any decision the individual county may make to intervene in the proceedings.
“There is one question on there that they are wanting the entire body of supervisors to answer, and that is if we are interested in giving financial support. This is not necessarily in opposition to the pipeline project, we’re simply trying to gather information and do what’s best for our county,” explained Robinson.
There was no official indication of what that amount would be. Supervisor Mike Olson said if there was no way of knowing what they had to spend, he was not in favor of entering into anything.
“I don’t know what’s going on with Shelby County, I hear conflicting reports on the motivation of certain individuals in Shelby County, and one is associated with a radical leftist group in Nebraska, and I think he’s the one leading the charge. I’m afraid we’re being led down the wrong road, and it’s going to cost us a lot of money,” stated Olson.
Olson felt that things like this survey were viewed as anti-pipeline, as well as the eminent domain letter and the potential ordinance, and it could lead to the county getting sued.
“The amount of money that we have invested now is relatively minimal. I don’t want to get into a four-or-five year litigation over something we have no control over. We shouldn’t even be discussing this. The decision is up to the Iowa Utilities Board, not the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors,” said Olson.
Supervisor Charla Schmid asked if Olson was in favor of an ordinance, and Olson said he wasn’t sure, as all the decisions will revert back to the Iowa Utilities Board guidelines for pipelines in Iowa.
Schmid and Olson disagreed over whether the county had any control at all in the county over the pipeline construction. Olson cited the ATV/UTV ordinances passed that were no longer effective.
“All these counties passed ordinances that became null and void the first week of July. The county has no control over ATV and UTV policy, it was all directed by the state of Iowa,” Olson commented.
Robinson felt it would be a good idea for the supervisors to align themselves with an organization that would give them further legal help and support, and that at last discussion, the amount proposed for each county to spend would be $500.
Robinson motioned to support the petition from ISAC to intervene, with a cap amount on financial support not to exceed $500. The motion passed 4-1, with Olson voting no.
Peterson said he would submit a survey that said the county would likely be willing to give financial support, and limit the amount to $500.
The supervisors also heard from County Attorney Drew Swanson. Swanson said his office had concerns brought to its attention regarding information shared at the Sept. 13 Board of Supervisors meeting. Swanson said first and foremost, he wanted to assure the supervisors, departments, and all citizens that the attorney’s office strives to provide accurate information, upon request, to the best of its ability, even if the requests don’t allow them time to formulate a complete response.
“The county attorney’s office is apolitical, and we approach each question from  a strictly legal standpoint based on the applicable law in question, and we do not incorporate personal opinions or views into any official duty. We also never purposely attempt to deceive, mislead, or persuade,” stated Swanson.
The first bit of information Swanson  clarified was whether or not the Shelby County Pipeline ordinance had been tabled stated this version had not.
“A prior version of the ordinance had been tabled, and due to a miscommunication it was confused with the most recent version. However, it is important to note that Shelby County has not yet passed their most recent ordinance,” said Swanson.
As to comments that the county was in wait and see mode, Swanson said he felt that meant that the county was simply observing how the Shelby County ordinance progressed through their process and public hearings, and that the county was not entirely on hold.
Grant Terry, a senior project manager with Summit Carbon Solutions, made comments at the Sept. 7 meeting of the Montgomery County Planning and Zoning Commission that the Shelby County ordinance was developed by an opposition group in Nebraska that had been classified as an eco-terrorist group, and that the Shelby County Commissioner who submitted the ordinance was supposedly an active member of the group. Swanson clarified that wasn’t entirely the case.
“My understanding is that it has been drafted with at least some assistance by Ahlers & Cooney, a private law firm that regularly represents both government and private entities,” said Swanson. “At this time, I don’t know the full extent of their involvement, but I do know they have been involved. It is also our understanding that Ahlers & Cooney is quite versed in hazardous pipeline law, which as we’re all quickly learning, is a very technical, complicated, and detail-oriented subject.”
Swanson advised the supervisors that other counties in the path of the pipeline have also been employing Ahlers & Cooney to assist in drafting an appropriate ordinance and answer applicable questions along the way.
“In light of that, and given the great importance and highly-technical aspects of this issue, my office would suggest the supervisors consider the use of some sort of outside counsel, be that through the Iowa State Association of Counties, Ahlers & Cooney, or a similar private or public organization to assist in preparing an ordinance that works for the citizens of Montgomery County, and to answer questions on the subject, and make sure the final ordinance we eventually land on is going to be viable and applicable to our county,” advised Swanson.
Robinson felt that Ahlers & Cooney were dialed into the situation and it would be beneficial to the county to have their outside support, and agreed that no one was wilfully sharing misinformation.
“Everybody is doing their best to be informed on this, and I don’t feel we’ve jumped off the rails as drastically as we were accused of. We’re all trying very hard, and if this pipeline was going through my property, I’d be doing my homework myself, and not relying on county officials to tell me what I should do,” stated Robinson. “We’re doing our best, but I feel that if this affects you personally, you need to be invested in that.”
Peterson said he had already been in contact with Ahlers & Cooney to discuss assistance with the county’s pipeline ordinance.

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