A group of about two dozen North Dakota landowners is suing the developer of the disputed Dakota Access oil pipeline for alleged deceit and fraud in acquiring land easements.
Already, landowners in Iowa await a state judge's ruling in another easement case regarding the $3.8 billion, four-state pipeline. Other court battles are playing out in federal court in North Dakota and Washington, D.C.
The Morton County landowners in the lawsuit, filed this month in U.S. District Court, are seeking more than $4 million in damages from Dakota Access LLC, a subsidiary of Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners. ETP contends the allegations "are without merit," company spokeswoman Vicki Granado told The Associated Press.
The landowners who are suing represent only about 3 percent of the 800 North Dakota landowners who provided easements to Dakota Access, according to Granado.
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Those suing say Dakota Access engaged in unfair tactics and fraud while negotiating to lay pipeline on private land, resulting in compensation that was as much as nine times lower than what other landowners got. Landowners also allege they were told if they didn't agree to the offered amount, they faced losing money or getting nothing either because their land would be condemned through eminent domain or the pipeline would be moved elsewhere.
"Dakota Access's representations to the Morton County landowners were false representations and deceptive," the lawsuit states. The company has until about the end of the month to file its response in court.
The pipeline is to move North Dakota oil through South Dakota and Iowa to a shipping point in Illinois. It's nearly complete, but work is stalled in North Dakota while ETP battles the federal government in court in Washington for permission to lay pipe under the Missouri River. The Standing Rock Sioux and others fear any spill would contaminate drinking water.
ETP also faces a lawsuit from about a dozen landowners in Iowa, where a decision is pending. The lawsuit seeks to overturn the project permit, which was approved by the Iowa Utilities Board, claiming the board illegally took farmland through eminent domain because the pipeline provides no public service to state residents. The company argues the case is moot since the pipeline is already in the ground, but some landowners say if they win they want the pipe dug up.
In a separate federal lawsuit in North Dakota, pipeline opponents are suing law enforcement for what they claim is excessive force during a Nov. 20 clash over a blockaded bridge near the protest encampment and question the credibility of alleged threats detailed against police and public officials. U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland will rule later.