Moville landowner and CO2 pipeline company fight in court over private land access
The trial for a Woodbury County couple began Tuesday as they fight to keep a liquid carbon dioxide pipeline off their property.
William and Vicki Hulse who live in rural Moville twice denied surveyors for Heartland Greenway’s Navigator CO2 Pipeline access to their property in the Summer of 2022, who sought to perform environmental and cultural surveys where their proposed pipeline was mapped to be routed.
Navigator then sued for a temporary injunction citing Iowa state law gave them permission to survey land without landowner permission. That injunction was denied by District Court Judge Roger Sailer in September 2022. The Hulse’s are challenging the constitutionality of Iowa’s law that would in turn give companies, like Navigator, the right to access private land for surveys and examinations regardless of landowner approval. The Hulses have also filed a counterclaim, seeking an injunction of their own to keep Navigator representatives off their property until the issue is resolved. Tuesday's trial will decide on a permanent injunction for Navigator and also rule on Hulse's unconstitutionality claim.
READ MORE: "I knew that I was going to fight this": Woodbury Co. woman fights against CO2 pipeline
Navigator, one of two proposed liquid CO2 pipelines slated for northwest Iowa, is a $3 billion project that would sequester CO from ethanol plants and other manufacturers through five states to be stored underground in south-central Illinois. Navigator's pipeline will run roughly 900 miles through 36 counties in Iowa, many of them in northwest Iowa.
The Hulses are one of four Iowa landowners the company has sued for rights to access their private property.
Trial began Tuesday morning with a gallery of pipeline opponents in attendance. Navigator’s first witness Ann Marie Welshans, and the only one of the morning, is Navigator's Director of Right of Way who was questioned about the validity and process of sending certified letters to landowners and how the company verifies the landowners received the notice about the surveys. Welshans says the surveys are a necessary part of the planning process for the pipeline.
“The survey will allow us to determine what obstacles could be in the way,” Welshans testified, saying the survey helps to determine if there needs to be a possible reroute, see the geography of the land, and define other easements in the routed path.
Following a short break, Vicki Hulse was called to testify by Navigator's legal team, seeking confirmation that Hulse spoke to a land agent regarding the pipeline and easement requests. Hulse stated she attended a public meeting for the pipeline, but did not meet with a land agent at that time, but was eventually called by one.
“(The land agent) actually called my children who are not on the deed and they called me,” Hulse explained, “then she called me.”
Hulse’s children do not reside at the residence, and Hulse states they do not live near the area. The person who leases their farmland, court records state, was also not notified by Navigator about the land surveys. Speaking on the survey and easement discussion with Navigator, Hulse stated she doesn’t recall being asked if the pipeline company could access her property for a survey but says she wouldn’t have allowed it either way.
"If someone asked you to sign a voluntary easement for a co2 pipeline, you would not want to do that either,” Navigator’s lawyer asked.
"That is correct,” Hulse stated.
Hulse stated for the record that surveyors called the sheriff’s office after Hulse refused them access to her land. “I remember a surveyor calling me and saying, we’re going to bring the sheriff out and I said okay, I will meet you there.”
Navigator's attorney's asked Hulse if she was worried about damage to her land by the surveyors. "Apparently they did a couple of surveys and I didn't even know it," Hulse stated. "So I guess I am going to have to check that out and I am very concerned about my CRP ground and the contract I have with the government. And I don't want them out there trampling all over my CRP ground."
Part of Hulse’s land is enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program, or CRP, a federal program that pays landowners to leave parcels of their land untouched for at least a decade. Hulse states she was unaware of surveys already done on her property by Navigator agents and she’s concerned about the damage possibly done to her CRP land.
She says she is fighting now to uphold her rights as a landowner. "I just feel it's against my property rights as an owner that they can come on our property any time of day against my will, any time that they want they can survey my land against my knowledge and go anywhere on my property as many times as they want and I just don't feel that that's right."
Hulse has power of attorney over her husband, William Hulse, who suffers from dementia and currently resides in the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown, Iowa. Vicki Hulse has been in this fight with Navigator largely on her own.
"He was in the Army in Vietnam and was exposed to Agent Orange and how has dementia and Parkinson’s,” Hulse stated on the stand. Hulse’s time on the stand lasted about an hour.
Daniel Rogers, who works for a company hired by Navigator to help facilitate the surveys, was called to Hulse’s property after a worker denied surveyors access to the Hulse property due to Hulse’s opposition to the pipeline. “I am there for problems between landowners and surveyor,” he said on the stand following Hulse’s testimony.
He, the sheriff’s deputy, and a survey team went back to the property two days later and were served a letter from Hulse’s attorney denying them entry. The survey team left the property. Rogers claims Hulse told him over the phone that she rejected the certified letters from the pipeline. He then stated that he brought a copy of the letter to the Hulse property the day he and the surveyors attempted to gain access with the sheriff’s office.
Part of the evidence brought to trial by Navigator included the certified letter addressed to the Hulses that was marked refused, which was challenged by Hulse's attorney. Rogers was the final witness for Navigator. The defense did not call any witnesses in the case.
Trial proceedings concluded Tuesday afternoon and Judge Sailer will release his decision on Navigator's request for a permanent injunction and his ruling on the constitutionality of the pipeline laws at a later date.
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