PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission should first decide whether to allow the Navigator carbon-dioxide pipeline and then resolve later a broader question regarding legality of counties’ restrictions on transmission pipelines, according to lawyers representing Minnehaha County government.

The state commission opens its evidentiary hearing Tuesday morning on the Navigator project. Attorneys Alex Hagen and Claire Wilka filed the Minnehaha County Commission’s motion Friday calling on the state commission to delay its decision on county zoning ordinances.

“The PUC need not – and should not – rush to make a determination on an issue this
significant, which goes beyond the merits of Navigator’s individual application and touches on
the bedrock principles of the democratic process and local self-governance,” Minnehaha County’s accompanying brief says.

Instead, the county commission wants the state commission to hold Navigator’s June 26 request that the permit decision pre-empt county ordinances and set a separate hearing after the permit has been decided so that “all appropriate parties” can be heard.

Monica Howard, Navigator’s environmental and regulatory vice president, claims in her pre-filed rebuttal testimony that Navigator would be unable to meet the zoning ordinances passed by the Minnehaha and Moody county commissions.

Meanwhile, it’s still not clear whether a key witness will be able to testify on behalf of landowners who oppose the project. The state commission decided last week that no remote testimony will be allowed.

Brian Jorde, one of the attorneys representing those landowners, recently told the state commission that University of St. Thomas professor John Abraham was his side’s “most important” witness He wanted Abraham, an expert in thermal-fluid sciences, to be able to testify remotely because of a scheduling conflict. The state commission however set July 27 as the date for Abraham to testify in person.

Jorde told KELOLAND News that landowners were still hopeful that Abraham could appear in person to give his opinion whether Navigator’s plume modeling and dispersion analysis were sufficient. The state commission granted confidential status to the Navigator plume modeling overview document.

In a further development, the PUC’s staff attorneys on Friday asked the state commission to rule beforehand on excluding testimonies submitted on behalf of dozens of landowners after the filing deadline had passed.

The Navigator hearing will be held at the Casey Tibbs South Dakota Rodeo Museum in Fort Pierre. The hearing will run Tuesday through Thursday of this week, then resume Monday, July 31. The hearing is scheduled to end no later than Thursday, August 3.

The South Dakota portion of the project’s proposed route is in Brookings, Moody, Minnehaha, Lincoln and Turner counties. It would collect carbon dioxide from various commercial facilities and pipe the byproduct to a site in Illinois.

The commission has scheduled a permit hearing for September on a second carbon-dioxide pipeline proposed by SCS that would carry CO2 to a disposal site in North Dakota.