- Associated Press - Thursday, November 12, 2015

BOONE, Iowa (AP) - After months of tension over the potential construction of an oil pipeline across Iowa, supporters and opponents lined up to speak two minutes at a time Thursday before the regulatory board that will decide if the project proceeds.

People crammed into a building at the Boone County Fairgrounds for a public hearing organized by the Iowa Utilities Board, a three-member panel that is overseeing an application by Dakota Access LLC to build part of a roughly 1,100-mile pipeline from North Dakota through parts of South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois.

The board is considering whether to allow Dakota Access, a unit of Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, the right to use private land for the pipeline, a process known as eminent domain. Some landowners have voluntarily agreed to easements that would allow for the pipeline to be built on their property, while others have been vocal about their opposition to it.

In Boone County, one of 18 counties where the pipeline would be constructed, large signs on highways encourage people to oppose the project.

“It looks like it’s up to the three of you,” said Craig Peterson, of Dayton, who opposes the project and noted that Dakota Access had begun to stock up on pipeline material ahead of a formal decision. “This shouldn’t be about politics. This should be about being good stewards of our land.”

More than 270 people were scheduled to speak over several hours, and many who support the project have noted the financial boost that could come from creating thousands of construction jobs for the pipeline.

“These are not temporary jobs,” said Jeff Naville, of Rockbridge, Illinois, who identified himself as a laborer. “These temporary jobs are actual careers for generations of families.”

The hearing required people to take turns speaking for and against the project, a rule some criticized as implying that there was an even split in opinion. Some speakers said a large portion of those who support the project are from outside Iowa. State officials have said the hearing setup keeps it fair.

If a person surpassed their allotted time, the microphone was shut off to keep with the rules.

Lynn Pickard of Ankeny said he’s worked in the construction industry for decades and he is confident in the skills of the workers who would be behind the project.

“I believe we have the capability and resources to train the next generation of workforce necessary to complete this project, and ensure it is built to the highest standard of safety to the workers, to the environment and to the landowners,” he said.

But others reiterated their concerns about the pipeline’s environmental impact because of the potential for oil spills. Several noted how the federal government had recently denied the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, a separate project that would have transported crude oil through several states and Canada. Others took jabs at the utilities board, which was appointed by Gov. Terry Branstad. Branstad has declined to comment on the pipeline.

“When will we stop building dirty infrastructure?” Virginia Meyer of Lonetree asked the board. “We have to change. That is a powerful and positive contribution that you can give to us.”

The board took notes throughout the testimony, and noted early in the day that it was determined to let every person speak.

The 30-inch pipeline proposed by Dakota Access would move up to 570,000 barrels of crude oil daily from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois, where it would be transported to refineries using other pipelines.

The utilities board is set to hold additional meetings before it makes a decision either later this year or early next year. Other state commissions and boards are reviewing others parts of the pipeline.

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