Judge set to decide whether pipeline trespassing case will proceed

By: - January 20, 2023 10:02 am
Some farmers have argued that their land shouldn't be subject to eminent domain for liquid carbon dioxide pipelines. (Photo by Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Some farmers have argued that their land shouldn’t be subject to eminent domain for liquid carbon dioxide pipelines. (Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

There is no evidence a carbon dioxide pipeline surveyor accused of trespassing knew that he was not welcome to do the work on a Dickinson County, Iowa, farm, and the criminal charge against him should be dismissed, his attorney said this week.

A district court judge is poised to decide whether the trespassing charge against Stephen James Larsen, 28, of Arlington, South Dakota, should proceed to trial.

Alan Ostergren, a Des Moines attorney who represents Larsen, has requested that the case be dismissed. Larsen’s trial was delayed while District Associate Judge Shawna Ditsworth considers the request.

Larsen was part of a crew that went to the northwest Iowa farm in August. The group was working for Summit Carbon Solutions, which plans to build a 680-mile network of pipe in the northwestern half of Iowa to transport captured carbon dioxide from ethanol plants.

The surveys are necessary to determine the path and depth of pipelines, and state law grants them access after pipeline companies meet several requirements to notify landowners of the projects and surveys.

The surveys by Summit and Navigator CO2 Ventures are also the subject of a handful of civil lawsuits the companies have filed against landowners. Those suits seek injunctions to force the surveys, potentially with the help of law enforcement officers.

The trespassing charge against Larsen was lodged because another Summit surveyor had been previously turned away from the Dickinson County property and told not to return, and because the landowners and tenant had rejected certified mailings that were meant to give notice of the survey.

Dickinson County Attorney Steven Goodlow said in a court filing a week ago that Summit should have obtained an injunction before trying to survey the land again.

Ostergren argues that an injunction might be necessary to successfully complete a survey but it isn’t needed to avoid a trespassing charge.

“The entry for land surveys … shall not be deemed a trespass and may be aided by (court) injunction,” the law says.

It’s unclear when Judge Ditsworth will rule on the motion to dismiss the case.




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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Jared Strong is the senior reporter for the Iowa Capital Dispatch. He has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register. His investigative work exposing police misconduct has notched several state and national awards. He is a longtime trustee of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, which fights for open records and open government. He is a lifelong Iowan and has lived mostly in rural western parts of the state.