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Proposed zoning amendment would regulate placement of hazardous liquid pipelines in Floyd County

Proposed zoning amendment would regulate placement of hazardous liquid pipelines in Floyd County
Proposed Summit Carbon Solutions carbon dioxide pipeline through south Charles City.
By Bob Steenson,

A proposed zoning amendment would regulate where any hazardous liquid pipelines can be built in Floyd County – including two underground carbon dioxide transport pipelines currently proposed to go through the area.

The proposal is currently in the hands of the Floyd County Zoning Commission, which will make a recommendation to the county Board of Supervisors on whether to approve it. The supervisors will then decide whether or not to make it law.

The full proposed amendment can be found HERE.

The amendment is an 18-page document that spends the first five pages making the case for why the county should be allowed to regulate the location of hazardous liquid pipelines – including because of the county’s authority and mandate to regulate land use, preserve agricultural land, design regulations to ensure safety from “fire, flood, panic and other dangers,” and provide emergency response and hazard mitigation planning.

If passed – and validated by the courts after it is likely challenged – the law could require significant changes in the route planned through Floyd County by Summit Carbon Solutions, the project furthest along in the state permitting process.

Supervisor Chair Mark Kuhn has advocated for the amendment since his first day in office after being elected in November. He has repeatedly said he isn’t working to prevent the pipelines from being built, but he wants the county to be able to control where they are located through appropriate land use policies.

Kuhn is particularly concerned about the route Summit Carbon Solutions would take through the Avenue of the Saints Development Park in Charles City, which he says threatens the marketability of that state-certified development site.

“We’re trying to protect our economic development opportunities, increase Floyd County’s tax base, and maintain our rural residents’ property values,” Kuhn told the Press.

“I think it expresses our concerns about siting and routing of the two proposed pipelines, and it’s consistent with our comprehensive plan. … In essence I believe it does set up some common sense setback distances from sensitive areas that are in need of protection of potential release of a hazardous liquid such as carbon dioxide,” he said.

The draft was largely created by Tim Whipple, an experienced utilities attorney with the Ahlers & Cooney law firm in Des Moines, who the Floyd County Board of Supervisors hired to help create the zoning amendment.

Ahlers & Cooney in general and Whipple in particular were also hired to represent the county in proceedings by the Iowa Utilities Board when it decides whether or not to grant a permit to pipelines that would go through Floyd County, and, if a permit is granted, whether eminent domain should be allowed to be used to force property owners to accept easements with the pipeline companies if they do not choose to do so voluntarily.

Minimum separation distances are some of the most significant parts of the proposed zoning amendment, and they would require that pipelines be:

  • Not less than one mile from the city limits of an incorporated city.
  • Not less than half a mile from a church, school, nursing home, long-term care facility, hospital, public park, conservation area, sensitive area, public recreation area, Floyd County Fairgrounds or any occupied structure.
  • Not less than 2,000 feet from any animal feeding operation or facility.
  • Not less than 1,000 feet from an electric power generating facility, an electric transmission substation, a public drinking water treatment plant, or a public wastewater treatment plant.
  • Not less than 200 feet from any public water system or any nonpublic water supply well or private well.

As currently proposed, the Summit Carbon Solutions pipeline route would not meet the zoning law’s setback requirements, as it would pass less than a mile from the city limits of Rockford and is proposed to actually pass within the city limits in part of Charles City.

In addition, it is closer than half a mile from occupied structures and doesn’t meet the proposed ordinance in other requirements.

Kylie Lange, pipeline project manager for Summit, has said some of the proposed zoning ordinances she has seen in other counties are pipeline-stopping ordinances, where no route exists that would meet all the requirements.

Jake Ketzner, vice president of government and public affairs for Summit Carbon Solutions, agreed that some of the zoning ordinances already passed in other Iowa counties are so restrictive they would kill the project in those counties.

Kuhn said he is familiar with those arguments, but said, “There are some places where they could certainly fit it a little better.”

“I’m familiar with the objections the pipeline companies make that’s it’s going to prohibit them, but it really doesn’t prohibit them. It just requires them to get a conditional use permit to try to mitigate some of those potential damages,” he said.

Among the requirements in the Floyd County proposal are that any pipeline project must file an application with the county for a conditional use permit within seven days of filing a petition with the Iowa Utilities Board. Any company that has already filed a petition with the IUB before the zoning amendment takes effect must file for a county conditional use permit within seven days of the amendment becoming law.

The amendment would also require that any property owner in the county that intends to negotiate an easement with a pipeline company must also file for a conditional use permit.

The amendment also calls for fees to be paid by the pipeline when it applies for a conditional use permit, and annual fees that are based on the number of people affected by the pipeline and by the total miles through the county.

Kuhn said those fees would be used for emergency planning and hazard mitigation costs.

The zoning ordinance would require pipeline companies applying for a conditional use permit from the county to supply information about potential leak or rupture risks to humans, livestock and property, and models showing potential dispersion of CO2 gas in a rupture and the “Fatality Zone,” “Hazard Zone” and “Blast Zone” in a range of potential weather conditions and topographical conditions.

The Summit pipeline would “pose a significant public safety risk to residents of Charles City and numerous businesses located near the proposed pipeline route,” Kuhn has said.

Currently Story, Shelby and Emmet counties have passed zoning ordinances that would regulate hazardous liquid pipeline placement. All three counties are represented by Ahlers & Cooney.

All three counties are also being sued by Summit in U.S. District Court, where the pipeline company is asking the court to permanently enjoin (prohibit) the counties from enforcing the ordinances.

Summit argues that according to law it is up to the federal government to establish safety standards for pipelines, and up to the state to approve locations, and that counties legally don’t have a say in where pipelines are built.

Kuhn said the ordinance talks a lot about the role of the PHMSA – the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration – but the ordinance isn’t trying to take on the role of PHMSA.

“It’s not designed for safety,” he said about the ordinance. “That’s PHMSA’s regulation.”

The county is currently working through whether the zoning amendment will be adopted. The county Zoning Commission plans to begin work on the proposal at a meeting June 13. Eventually it will send a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors either to approve or turn down the amendment.

Attorney Whipple said at a meeting earlier this year, “The supervisors want to develop an ordinance at the local level to express their goals about how land should be used in the unincorporated areas of the county, and they want to intervene in the two proceedings to make sure that the same goals and policy objectives are supported by the Iowa Utilities Board in the state permitting process.”

“I’m convinced we’re doing the right thing,” said Kuhn, who has expressed frustration that the county Zoning Commission is moving too slowly on considering the amendment for it to be in effect for the Iowa Utilities Board permitting hearings this fall for the Summit pipeline project.

The Summit project, proposed by Summit Ag Investors of Ames, would cover much of the northwestern part of the state, going as far east as completely through Floyd County and into Chickasaw County.

The state permit hearing schedule has not been set yet for the other CO2 pipeline project proposed to include Floyd County, Navigator CO2 Ventures, by Navigator Energy Services of Dallas. That pipeline would cross the state from northwest to southeast, including a branch entering Floyd County from the south to serve the Valero Renewables ethanol plant south of Floyd.

Both those projects and others proposed for the state would capture carbon dioxide created by ethanol plants and other high CO2-producing sources, compress it to liquid form, then transport it to sites in North Dakota or Illinois where it would be injected deep underground for permanent storage.

The projects would make money through federal tax credits for carbon sequestration, and by lowering the carbon score on ethanol, making it available to be sold at premium prices in states that currently restrict high carbon score fuels.


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