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Group Seeks Greater Oversight For Iowa Pipeline Permits

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A group that opposes a proposed oil pipeline across Iowa is asking a federal agency's regional office to be more stringent in issuing permits to a private company seeking access to waterways in the path of the project, and members say the request highlights their concern over varied oversight in the approval process.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement members say they want the Army Corps of Engineers' district office in Rock Island, Illinois, to change how it is reviewing permit applications submitted by Dakota Access LLC, a unit of Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners. The company plans to build a pipeline that also runs through parts of North Dakota, South Dakota and Illinois.

The Army Corps of Engineers helps maintain the country's infrastructure, including waterways, and its district offices around the country issue permits for waterway access. In the Rock Island office, that includes the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, which border Iowa and are along the part of the pipeline. Other regional offices are in charge of permits along different parts of the 1,134-mile pipeline.

Nathan Malachowski, a community organizer for Iowa CCI, said his group is focusing on the Rock Island office because it oversees affected waterways in Iowa. He hopes that when officials are considering this project, they will not focus on waterways as individual permit applications but one large application for the section that involves Iowa. The group believes that would better show the scope and impact of the pipeline.

"This is people's farmland, this is the water that people drink, that they are putting into jeopardy by not doing more stringent permitting," he said.

Donna Jones, head of the Illinois and Missouri sections under the Rock Island office, said the office is following the policies in place for reviewing the applications. She said changes to those rules are outside of the office's authority.

"We have very specific guidance about linear projects. A pipeline is a linear project," she said.

Malachowski said he expected that type of response from Army Corps officials, and Iowa CCI will continue to push for the change. Both sides will meet in several weeks to discuss the issue. Jones said the Rock Island office plans to explain its regulatory process.

The pipeline would move at least 450,000 barrels of North Dakota crude oil daily through South Dakota and Iowa to Illinois. Opponents say the project could have a negative environmental impact. Dakota Access says the project's construction will bring thousands of jobs.

Groups across the region said they've turned to each other to build momentum for organizing people in their respective communities against the pipeline. But some said there are limitations because of the varied oversight, with different boards and commissions in each state tasked with approving parts of the pipeline. The regulatory process for each state is at different stages and has different requirements.

"It's a segmented project and it's by design that it's segmented," said Tabitha Tripp, founder of Shawnee Forest Sentinels, an Illinois-based group that is involved in opposing the pipeline. "Therefore groups across the state lines, this multi-state coalition if we can call it that, it can't move together in unison and we can't build strength in numbers."

Malachowski said Iowa CCI's effort with the Army Corps is critical in fighting against the segmented system. He said if they can convince the federal agency to rethink its permit process, it would be a "game changer."

Vicki Grando, a spokeswoman for Dakota Access, said in an email that individual state regulatory groups approve crude oil pipelines and the company is following the rules "as they have been set."

The Iowa Utilities Board, which is tasked with approving Dakota Access' pipeline in Iowa through a separate permit application, has scheduled a public hearing in November.

(© Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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