- Associated Press - Thursday, November 5, 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - A group that opposes a proposed oil pipeline across Iowa says the regulatory board overseeing whether it gets approved is limiting public comment on the project. State officials deny that, saying they’re granting both sides equal time.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement said the Iowa Utilities Board will hear comments from only about 200 people when it holds a public hearing in Boone on Nov. 12 about the pipeline, which is being developed by Dakota Access LLC, a unit of Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners. It would move crude oil through parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois.

At the meeting, people will be given up to two minutes each to speak, and comments will be switched between those who oppose the project and those who support it.

Iowa CCI said that setup creates a “false illusion” of equal opposition and support.

“It’s clear that IUB is trying to limit public perception on how many Iowans are opposed to the Bakken Pipeline,” Nathan Malachowski, a community organizer for Iowa CCI, said in a statement.

Don Tormey, a spokesman for the board, said he disagrees with that assessment.

“There’s people that are in favor of the pipeline and people who are against it,” he said. “The board has decided that both sides need to have equal time to present their case at the hearing.”

Nearly 5,000 letters supporting the project have been received as of Oct. 20, according to a report by the utilities board. The letters of objection in that same time frame is just over 3,100.

Malachowski said despite more letters of support, over 3,700 of those are from people who live outside of the state. He said the bulk of the letters opposing the pipeline are from Iowa residents. He also said Iowa CCI has submitted an additional 1,000 statements of opposition that were not included in the board’s report.

Malachowski said his group’s internal tally of letters shows Iowa residents overwhelmingly oppose the project. He said the three-member utilities board should allow as many people as possible to comment, and should hold additional public hearings if necessary.

The public hearing at the Boone County Fairgrounds is expected to last several hours. The utilities board has asked people who want to speak to contact them Thursday or Friday during working hours. Unscheduled speakers may comment at the end if there’s time.

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