Landowners You Don’t Have to Let Surveyors On Your Property
Published in the Community News Brief, McDonough County
June 3, 2022
By now, many readers are aware of the Navigator Heartland Greenway Pipeline project, a private venture to construct a 1300-mile liquid CO2 pipeline through five states and 13 Illinois counties, including Knox, Henry, and Fulton. It aims to capture industrial CO2, reduce it to a supercritical liquid, and transport it under high pressure to an underground sequestration site (i.e., dumpsite) in Christian County, Illinois, a process my best friend from law school likens to trying to put the methane back in the beans after eating a bowl of chili. The main incentive behind the project is collecting 45Q tax credits from taxpayers (and possibly Low Carbon Fuel payments from California as well).
The pipeline company intends to ask the Illinois Commerce Commission for eminent domain authority to take private land for right of way easements. The issue came to a head this month when the company’s land agent began calling Knox County landowners, asking to conduct surveys across their land. (One of my cousins was called in the cab of his tractor while running a field cultivator.)
If you are an impacted landowner, know that you do not have to allow pipeline surveyors onto your property. If contacted by the pipeline company or its agents, consider sending something like this:
“My purpose in contacting you is to make the following abundantly clear: I have never given, nor will I ever give, any person or entity connected with the Navigator Heartland Greenway Pipeline project permission to enter any of my real property for any reason whatsoever. If I observe any unauthorized persons or equipment on my property, I will immediately call the ___ County, Illinois, Sheriff's Department, ask to have all such persons arrested for criminal trespass, further ask to have their vehicles and equipment seized as evidence, and agree to be a cooperating witness in any resulting criminal prosecutions. I will pursue civil remedies against trespassers and their employer(s), and seek to hold them jointly and severally liable for the tort of trespass.”
Do not ignore requests to enter your property. The pipeline company could construe failure to respond as tacit acquiescence.
If you doubt your ability to fight the pipeline, know you are not alone. Landowners in Iowa, and across the 13 Illinois counties targeted by Heartland Greenway, have mobilized. In Iowa, a similar CO2 pipeline company, Summit Carbon Solutions, has run into so much resistance from angry farmers and landowners that it has only been able to obtain voluntary easements across 20% of the 2,500 parcels it needs for its right of way. Of 30 affected Iowa counties, 19 (63%) have filed objections to the Summit pipeline with the Iowa Utilities Board; so far, 47% have objected to Heartland Greenway.
If you’re an Illinois landowner and want to fight Heartland Greenway, join the Coalition to Stop CO2 Pipelines: https://noillinoisco2pipelines.org/, and visit its website for updates. If you like the idea of making the pipeline company fight a two-front war, support the Iowa resistance effort. An Iowa Sierra Club member tells me Iowa landowners have formed a non-profit to raise money for legal fees to fight CO2 pipelines. Efforts to establish a similar non-profit are underway in Illinois, and an experienced Springfield attorney has agreed to represent Illinois landowners as a group before the Illinois Commerce Commission. Pooling money with hundreds of landowners can make legal fees affordable for individuals. (See the Coalition website for updates on this.)
In addition to work by the Coalition to Stop CO2 Pipelines, several Illinois counties and townships are considering enacting ordinances to protect residents from the dangers of pipeline ruptures and loss of property values arising from proximity to the pipeline.
Talk to your friends and neighbors. If you negotiate with the pipeline company, negotiate as a bloc. A group that controls several miles of right of way has more power than a single landowner. In addition to the paltry sums offered by Heartland Greenway for easements and construction-related interference with land use, demand a percentage of annual pipeline revenue. Wind farm landowners share in wind turbine revenue; why shouldn’t pipeline landowners receive similar compensation?
Contact the Farm Bureau, the Sierra Club, your county and township boards, other elected officials, local emergency responders, news outlets, etc. I recently hosted Galesburg’s Mayor and a member of the Knox County Board for a tour of the proposed pipeline right of way across my farm. Consider doing something similar with your representatives.
Finally, if you’re concerned that defeating CO2 pipeline projects will adversely affect the demand for corn to produce ethanol, consider the following question that my farm manager, another attorney, and I asked each other in a recent discussion: if CO2 pipelines are necessary to support the corn market, how is it that commodity prices are currently at their highest levels, ever, without a single shovelful of earth being turned to build the Navigator Heartland Greenway Pipeline?
John F. Feltham, Colonel
U.S. Marine Corps (Ret)