NOTE TO READERS: The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission plans to decide on September 6 whether to pre-empt the Minnehaha and Moody counties’ pipeline ordinances, as part of the broader question whether to grant a permit for the Navigator project.

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Minnehaha County’s planning director says the pipeline zoning ordinance that was recently added isn’t standing in the way of Navigator’s proposed carbon-dioxide project.

Navigator wants the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission to override pipeline ordinances passed by Minnehaha County and Moody County this year. But Scott Anderson told the state commission on Friday that the company hasn’t yet applied and that Minnehaha County’s process was straight-forward.

“I believe it’s clearly spelled out in the ordinance what the necessary steps are to move the project forward,” Anderson said.

State commissioner Chris Nelson asked Anderson why he referred to transmission lines as a new land use. Anderson said one reason was that carbon dioxide currently isn’t carried by any pipeline in South Dakota. Another reason he gave was that CO2 in the line would be under high pressure.

Nelson then asked Anderson whether the ordinance specifies a particular product or pressure threshold. “No it does not.”

Among other questions Nelson asked was how Anderson thought the people of Minnehaha County would describe Anderson, a Flandreau native who’s been in the role of the county’s planning director for nearly two decades and previously was Rapid City’s planning director. “I always strive to have very good relations with the people I have the honor of serving in the county,” Anderson replied. He added, “I feel that I have a very good reputation and if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have lasted 19 years.”

His testimony came after Navigator environmental and regulatory vice president Monica Howard wrapped up her time as a witness Friday morning. Howard defended the company’s request that the commission pre-empt the two counties’ ordinances, saying she would have needed to get waivers from more than a half-dozen of the landowners who testified as opponents and who have refused to negotiate with Navigator.

Howard said Navigator would have changed its approach had the company known earlier about the counties’ concerns and that Navigator is “fully and wholly committed” to upholding all laws and ordinances. The company filed its application for a permit from the PUC last September and the counties approved their ordinances in recent months. “Based on the timing, that’s what brought us here today,” Howard said.

Commissioner Nelson asked Howard whether she understood that Minnehaha County’s official view changed over time. “Yes,” she said. According to Howard, the company’s major objections to the Moody County ordinance are the 1,500-foot setback requirement and the need to bore beneath all current underground utilities and drain tiles; for the Minnehaha County ordinance, the top objection was the 330-foot setback requirement. To go to a route outside Navigator’s proposal would un-do all the work the company had done, she said.

Howard said Navigator wouldn’t have asked for the PUC to pre-empt the county ordinances if the company could have planned for them or forecasted that they could be put into effect. She said Navigator couldn’t have predicted before filing for the state permit that two counties would adopt setbacks that differed so much.

Regarding how many easements have been secured in the five counties on the proposed route, she gave these statistics: Brookings 70% of 5.5 miles; Lincoln 26% of 11.6 miles; Minnehaha 47% of 12.9 miles; Moody 15.4% of 4.6 miles; and Turner 50% of 0.5 miles. 

State commissioner Gary Hanson made the point to Howard that the CO2 wouldn’t be sold to consumers because it would be sequestered at a site in Illinois. Howard said there would be an ability to off-load CO2 along the route for other uses.

Hanson said natural-gas lines supply product to consumers. Howard partially agreed with the point regarding CO2. “I wouldn’t say it is a utility in that regard,” she said. “Much like a crude (oil) line wouldn’t be,” she added.

Hanson asked why Navigator chose to route the line through the most-populated region of South Dakota. Howard said the company was cognizant of future land use and was respectful of future development. Hanson pointed out that the siting law refers to “future inhabitants” and Navigator’s route went between two prime development areas of Brandon/Valley Springs and Sioux Falls. But Howard said it wouldn’t interfere with the orderly development of the region. “In perpetuity is a high bar to meet,” she said. “They can co-exist.”

Referring to the state siting law, Hanson told Howard she was referring to only a portion of one of the requirements. “Expected inhabitants of the siting area does not mean today or tomorrow,” Hanson said. “You and I are going to differ on that, obviously,” he added.

Howard said there was more than siting for the company to consider regarding safety, such as technology and operational controls. “You do have routing options, don’t you?” Hanson said. She said yes. Hanson asked whether the pipeline would provide a service to anyone in Minnehaha County or Moody County. Howard answered economic impacts, tax dollars, construction spending, and the related benefit to the ethanol facilities in Brookings, Turner and Lincoln counties that the pipeline would serve.

Hanson asked about the economic damage that landowners would suffer from the project. “I think we have conflicting testimony on that,” Howard said, noting that one of the landowners who testified as an opponent had multiple pipelines running across her various properties. Howard said there are many other factors that affect property values.

Moody County zoning administrator Kendra Eng said the pipeline zoning ordinance that was passed on June 26, 2023, was placed on the county’s website. She said Navigator emailed her on March 21, 2022, and on March 24, 2022, the county commission put a pipeline moratorium into place, to allow her to look into pipeline performance standards.

Navigator applied to the PUC on September 27, 2022, and also then sent an application to the Moody County auditor, but it wasn’t relayed to the county zoning office, according to Eng. She said that the county commission on March 21, 2023, extended the pipeline moratorium for an additional year “with the intention of adopting an ordinance in the very near future.”

The county planning commission held a public hearing on the proposed pipeline ordinance May 26, 2023. Eng said Navigator’s Howard and a Pierre lawyer, Jason Glodt, attended, and Howard was among the many who spoke for the allotted three minutes. Eng said she was approached afterward by Glodt, who expressed disappointment about the lack of a presentation and the three minute limit; Eng said he could get on the agenda to meet with the commission.

On June 12, the Moody County planning commission held a first reading of the draft ordinance and changed the setback distance to 1,500 feet from the original proposal of 1,320 feet. On June 23, Navigator submitted comments with concerns about the setback distance being “too strong” and landowner easements. On June 26, 2023, the planning commission had the second reading of the ordinance and added a requirement that the pipeline shouldn’t cross a tile line or a utility line.

Navigator sent a map of the proposed route through Moody County. Eng said the county’s now-retired emergency manager overlay the map on a Google Earth file that was then put on the county website for landowners to see. Eng said Navigator didn’t provide a plume map showing the possible effects of a pipeline rupture, but she also acknowledged that she didn’t request one.

Eng said she has no experience or previous knowledge about pipelines. She said she would review the Navigator application only to ensure it was filed and that it would become a public record.

Commissioner Hanson made a point through a question to Eng that suggested Navigator wasn’t being logical in arguing that the counties should have already had ordinances in place that addressed the possibility of a CO2 pipeline.

“What ordinance change are you going to make three years from now?” he asked Eng.

“Don’t know,” she answered.