DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The Iowa Utilities Board moved closer Wednesday to allowing a Texas oil pipeline company to begin construction in Iowa in areas for which it has landowner approval and permits, though construction still will have to wait in zones that are under federal jurisdiction.
The three-member board voted unanimously to direct its attorney to draft an order that they’ll review for final approval as early as next week. If approved, the order would allow Dakota Access LLC, a subsidiary of Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, to begin digging trenches and laying pipe in Iowa.
Construction on the $3.8 billion, 1,150-mile project has already begun in Illinois, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Dakota Access had asked the Iowa board for permission to begin work in areas outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, saying it has to get started or the project will not be finished by winter, meaning it would disrupt two crop-growing seasons.
The Corps hasn’t issued permits for about 60 plots of land at river crossings, wetlands or on federal land where historical or environmental issues could arise, but expects issues those for all but three sites by June 16.
Among the three that needs further review is a site in northwest Iowa where the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe says there is a burial site. Tribal members are expected to meet this week with state and federal officials to determine whether the pipeline’s path must be moved. The other two sites are Des Moines River crossings.
Pipeline opponents hoped the Corps’ delays would be enough to keep the utilities board from allowing construction to begin in Iowa, because its March 10 construction approval said the company must have all required permits and approvals to start work.
“This seems to be typical of what the Iowa Utilities Board has done all along in not holding Dakota Access accountable for their prior agreements,” said Keith Puntenney, who owns land along the pipeline route and has joined a lawsuit to challenge the use of an eminent domain law to forcefully take land. “They’re changing rules in the middle of game and not enforcing the rules they said they would.”
Board member Nick Wagner said he doesn’t view the action as a change in its original order or intent.
“I view it as more of a clarification that they are in substantial compliance with our March 10 order,” he said during Wednesday’s meeting.
The company has signed voluntary agreements with more than 90 percent of landowners in Iowa but about 160 resist signing agreements and are challenging the project in court.
As soon as it’s allowed, work will begin in Iowa, Dakota Access spokeswoman Vicki Granado said.