Carbon pipeline regulations in South Dakota's Minnehaha County stall after tie vote
With one member missing, the county commission debated how far any piplines should be from residences, churches and schools. The commission will take up the issue again at their June 6 meeting.
SIOUX FALLS — A final decision on a controversial new Minnehaha County zoning law addressing carbon dioxide pipelines winding through the county will have to wait for another day.
After a 3½-hour public hearing on the ordinance, a tie vote by county commissioners on required setbacks from homes, churches and businesses in the rural area for the pipeline put off any final vote until their next meeting on June 6.
With Board Chairman Jean Bender out of the country on a long-planned family trip, there were just four commissioners voting on the setback issue.
Commissioner Joe Kippley offered an amendment to the previous setback, unanimously passed by the county’s planning and board, to lower the setback from 750 feet to 330 feet.
He was joined by Commissioner Dean Karsky in supporting the new setback, while commissioners Gerald Beninga and Jen Bleyenberg made it clear they strongly supported the 750 feet setback.
The vote sends the issue to Bender to decide at the next meeting with potentially more new testimony.
Kippley backed off from another controversial part of the ordinance that would measure the setback from the structure on the property.
Rural residents, along with Karsky and Bleyenberg, thought it would be more appropriate to measure the setback from the property line of the residence, business or church.
These new regulations regarding “hazardous transmission pipelines” are the first for the county, Planning Director Scott Anderson told the board.
Summit Carbon Solutions Project Manager for South Dakota Aaron Eldridge said the 750-foot setback would make it “extremely difficult to put the pipeline in the county.”
Eldridge also told the overflow crowd the company’s position is that the proposed ordinance will be preempted by the federal law making some regulations through the county ordinance meaningless.
The Summit pipeline, mostly being constructed to help ethanol plants in the five-state area reduce their carbon footprint, faces other hurdles in the coming months. The Summit pipeline, and another planned for the eastern part of the county by Heartland Greenway, are before the state Public Utilities Commission. A federal pipeline agency also is considering possible regulations on carbon dioxide lines after conducting a hearing in Des Moines on May 31 and June 1.
Karsky wanted to know what the current setback is for hazardous pipelines, and Anderson said since they don’t have a current zoning law it would default to the federal regulation of 50 feet.
He said he didn’t want to stop ”free enterprise” and not allow the pipeline, but said it appears the 750-foot setback would “totally eliminate” the ability of the county to allow it, as maps showing pipeline setbacks would provide few lanes for it to be placed.
Kippley, who said the pipeline has easily been the No. 1 issue he’s faced since starting his term on the board earlier this year, said he came up with the 330-foot setback from an emergency management pamphlet that said an evacuation zone if a pipeline had a rupture or leak would be 330 feet.
“I think we need to keep as neutral as we can and not act to kill any project or take sides,” he said.
However, Beninga said the original setback and the rest of the ordinance was developed after “input that has been professional. “It’s not our job to make everybody happy,” he said. “But our job is to do the right thing at the right time."
“‘If we want to exceed federal standards that’s our choice,” he said about the setbacks.
Opponents want greater setbacks
Numerous residents offered their input on the proposed ordinance in the hearing, with many rural residents favoring the longer setbacks.
The law also calls for setbacks from cities with a population over 5,000 residents at one mile, three-quarters of a mile from towns of 500 to 5,000 residents and a half mile for the smallest towns of 500 and under.
Kippley said he wanted to have the new ordinance in place before the state PUC tackles the permitting issue this summer and early fall to give them an indication of where the county stands.
Former State Rep. Frank Kloucek, of Scotland, said that as the biggest county in the state others are looking at Minnehaha County for guidance.
“I always tried to take the side of the people,” Kloucek said.
With safety of the pipeline being the major issue to residents, there were comments from both sides.
While a carbon dioxide pipeline consultant from Ohio told the crowd that there haven’t been any serious injuries, even from an incident in Mississippi when a pipeline ruptured, most of the rural residents at the hearing weren’t believers that a danger didn’t exist.
Pipelines are safe transportation
John Godfrey, who said there were already 5,100 miles of carbon dioxide pipelines in the U.S. already with no major issues, said there has been only one injury and that was by a contractor working on the pipeline.
He said even the 40 people affected in the Mississippi incident were not hospitalized after the rupture caused by a welding break.
“The safest transportation for commodities is pipelines by far compared to rail or trucks,” he said.
Any pipeline rupture would be rare, he added.
“It’s probably a one in a million chance,” Godfrey said.
He also said the carbon dioxide from the ethanol plants would have very few impurities which would make it even more safe.
Chase Jensen, an organizer with the Dakota Rural Action organization, said residents realize it wasn't the county board’s responsibility to fix eminent domain laws or safety standards of the pipeline themselves.
“You are fully within your lane,” he said, regarding county regulations on setbacks and other safety issues..
He added that the argument that ethanol plants would “die” without the pipelines is “completely ridiculous.”
“I think the zoning ordinance is legally defensible,” he said, adding that many rural residents wish the setbacks were longer..
With setbacks greater for cities in the county in the proposed ordinance, Gary Meyer of Valley Springs said he felt even the 750-foot setbacks were “disrespectful, especially to farmers.”
Townships support standards
Glenn Scott, an officer for Valley Springs Township, said a resolution supporting the new ordinance has been signed by four townships and others in the county were examining the wording.
The resolution, in part, states that the pipeline “would not carry a valuable commodity for resale for public benefit but rather a potentially dangerous byproduct of the ethanol distilling process.”
It also states that “transporting carbon dioxide by pipelines is a dangerous proposition requiring very substantial setbacks from occupied dwellings…” He said the townships were “immediately concerned” the pipelines may be permitted without proper safe setbacks and that it “would impede future growth and development of both urban and rural properties with no local or public benefit beyond the permitting of a few that would greatly profit.”
The resolution also states that it’s a “substantial infringement on property and the human rights of all residents of Minnehaha County.”
“Those of us who work for government entities have a duty to our constituents,” Scott said. “We care about the preservation of our communities.”
“Minehaha County is a beautiful place to live and we hope people help us keep it that way,” he said.