Appeals Court Says Iowa Farmer Can Sue Pipeline for Crop Damage

11:00AM Jan 29, 2016
iStock Corn Field Cropped
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An appeals court said Wednesday that a northeastern Iowa farmer may pursue a breach of contract lawsuit against a natural gas pipeline company and seek damages for decreased crop productivity on the ground above the pipeline.

Roger Tiemessen rents land from his parents to grow corn and soybeans near New Hampton and says the land above Alliance Pipeline's high pressure natural gas line is warmer, causing earlier thawing and quicker draining and drying than on nearby land. He says crop yields above the pipes installed in 2000 are poorer than other areas and he wants Alliance to compensate him for the loss. Damage amounts were not specified in court documents.

Judge Richard D. Stochl dismissed the lawsuit in 2014, determining that Tiemessen had no cause of action against the company.

"If he has any dispute with his ability to grow crops in the easement area, his dispute is with the landlord and not Alliance," Stochl wrote. "He is free to negotiate a lower rental rate with the landlord if he finds the easement area defective. He has no direct cause of action against Alliance."

But the Iowa Court of Appeals said Tiemessen has presented enough of a question about crop damage in the area of the pipes to present to a jury. The court noted the easement agreement with Alliance says the company will pay for crop damages that may arise from operating the pipeline.

The court sent the case back to district court for trial. Alliance has 20 days to seek further review from the Iowa Supreme Court.

The company's attorney and spokesman did not immediately respond to messages.

Tiemessen's attorney also did not immediately reply.

The case comes at a time when pipelines crossing farmland is a controversial issue.

Dakota Access LLC has proposed to build a 1,100-mile pipeline from North Dakota through parts of South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois. The 30-inch pipeline 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. It would cross 18 Iowa counties.

The Iowa Utilities Board is scheduled to meet in February to consider whether to allow the company to use eminent domain laws to seize land farmers don't voluntarily provide for the project.