FORT PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Chairwoman Kristie Fiegen said Thursday she was “complexed” why Navigator wants the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission to give the green light for the company’s proposed carbon-dioxide pipeline to proceed, even though Navigator hasn’t yet completed all of the studies needed for a South Dakota permit.

Fiegen made her statement amid questioning of Brandi Naughton, Navigator’s environmental and regulatory manager, during day seven of the commission’s two-week hearing on the project. Fiegen said she was “surprised” that Navigator applied for the permit last year but, as of Thursday, was still working on the second phase of a geo-hazards study.

Naughton said she didn’t make the decision to apply. Fiegen noted that many landowners opposed to the project interpret Navigator’s promise to return areas along the proposed route to their “pre-existing condition” as meaning they shouldn’t have to accept the pipeline going through their properties.

“I do understand that is a thought,” Naughton replied.

Navigator’s plan calls for a 1,300-mile network that would collect CO2 from ethanol producers and other agricultural facilities in South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and Illinois and dispose of it at a site in central Illinois. Three ethanol plants in South Dakota at Aurora, Chancellor and Hudson would connect to the line.

Naughton said she had been on portions of the proposed route in South Dakota and Iowa. Fiegen noted that part of the South Dakota segment would run through Minnehaha and Lincoln counties, east of Sioux Falls and Brandon. “The pipeline is in our most developed area and that’s where the future of our state is,” Fiegen said. Responded Naughton, “We took into account populated centers.”

Naughton said the company in 2022 did surveys on granted-permission tracts but also used a state law that allows right of entry without permission if certain requirements are met. “We did exercise that right on several tracts or portions of tracts in the 2022 survey season,” she acknowledged.

Naughton said the decision was made to stop using the right-of-entry law this year, with the 2023 surveys conducted only on properties where Navigator had permission.

During questions from PUC staff attorney Kristen Edwards, Naughton said the final route hasn’t been selected. “There could be potential for slight adjustments,” Naughton said. Edwards asked how Navigator intends to get those changes to the commission. “I’m not aware of a process to adjust or amend, but we would follow whatever the process,” Naughton answered.

Naughton said the required biological survey along the proposed route was now “99 percent” complete and the required cultural-resource survey work was “80 to 84 or 85 percent” complete. Navigator has secured about 30% of the necessary easements from landowners, according to Naughton. She said Navigator hasn’t sued any landowner for permission and hasn’t filed any lawsuits in South Dakota.

Edwards asked whether Navigator would support a permit condition from the commission that allows further review of mitigation measures. “Yes, we would agree with that,” Naughton said.

Commissioner Gary Hanson asked Naughton whether she would want to have a CO2 pipeline close to her home. “I would not have an issue with that,” Naughton answered, because of her experience and knowledge about how they are constructed and routed. Hanson asked whether that would hold true for a person who didn’t have her experience and knowledge. “From the landowner testimony we have seen, there is obviously a difference of opinion, yes,” Naughton said.

Hanson asked Naughton whether she had attended meetings of the Minnehaha County Commission and the Lincoln County Commission. She said she spoke against pipeline zoning ordinances that had been proposed. Her reason: Navigator would have to provide information that the company had already provided to the state commission.

Many of the landowners who refused to give surveying permission to Navigator have intervened in the docket through attorney Brian Jorde. Among the many questions he asked Naughton was how many residences are within one mile of the proposed route’s centerline. “I could not tell you that today,” Naughton said.

Jorde asked how many more route changes should be expected. Naughton replied that Navigator will continue to evaluate landowners’ requests but may have to come to “some middle-term” agreement with them. “I think at some point we will start to not accept changes,” she said.