Dakota Access Pipeline inches toward construction


The good news keeps flowing for Dakota Access LLC, but not so much for opponents.

On Monday, the final order of approval for Dakota Access to construct the controversial oil pipeline in South Dakota was issued by the state’s Public Utilities Commission, and two days later the Illinois Commerce Commission unanimously approved its state’s portion of the 1,134-mile pipeline.
With Dakota Access, a subsidiary of Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, expecting permit decisions in North Dakota and Iowa by late January, South Dakotans could see construction of 272 miles of the Dakota Access Pipeline in their backyards soon after.

But some South Dakotans have one last chance to reverse the permit approval.

According to Kristen Edwards, a staff attorney with the PUC, intervenors in the permitting process have until Jan.13 to appeal the project’s approval in the state.

Any intervening party, which includes two American Indian tribes, Dakota Rural Action, the Indigenous Environmental Network and several landowners, can appeal the permit in one of the 13 affected South Dakota counties or Hughes County, which serves as home to the PUC.

Unfortunately for opponents, an appeal may not delay construction.

Edwards said the PUC cannot stay its order if appealed, and the order is not automatically delayed when appealed in any of the counties affected by the pipeline. If the appellant wants the court to issue a stay of the permit approval, they would have to prove irreparable damage caused by installation of the pipeline.

If an appellant can prove irreparable damage, they will be met with an additional challenge. Dakota Access can ask the court for an appealing party to cover any damages experienced due to construction delays.

As of Friday, one of the project’s main opponents has yet to decide whether to appeal the project.

Matthew West, a community organizer with Dakota Rural Action, said the membership-driven grassroots organization is still considering its options.

“Right now, DRA and it(s) members are still discussing what are the appropriate next steps in this fight to protect landowner’s rights and the plains for future generations,” West said in an email on Friday.

With construction materials being staged along the pipeline route, Energy Transfer Partners spokeswoman Vicki Granado said the project could be finished by the end of 2016. Aside from acquiring permits in North Dakota and Illinois, one of the major hurdles remaining is finalization of voluntary easements with all landowners along the line.

In South Dakota, where part of the pipeline runs through Miner and McCook counties, Dakota Access has made easement agreements with 91 percent landowners as of Thursday. But the company has only reached agreements with 82 percent of landowners across the entire route.

Granado said their goal is to reach easement agreements with 100 percent of landowners, but Energy Transfers will likely have to utilize eminent domain to acquire access to 100 percent of the land along the route.

As for the project construction in South Dakota, assuming the project receives approval in the final two states, Granado said the everyday impact will be minimal aside from a handful of temporary road closures.

For supporters of the pipeline, the project could have a greater impact. Granado said the pipeline is still expected to employ up to 4,000 temporary construction workers and 12 to 15 permanent jobs will be created once the project is finished.

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