Linn hazardous material pipeline ordinance set for revamp

Duane Arnold Solar workdays extended; project work expected to ramp up soon

Wolf Carbon carbon dioxide hazardous material pipeline
The revised route for Wolf Carbon Solution's pipeline through Linn County, as submitted to the Iowa Utilities Board Nov. 22, 2022. CREDIT IOWA UTILITIES BOARD

A proposed Linn County ordinance establishing setbacks from private hazardous material pipelines is heading back to the drawing board, county supervisors decided April 19, while a request to extend the work hours for the Duane Arnold Solar project was granted despite objections from a number of county residents.

Pipeline ordinance process restarting due to revisions

Linn County Planning and Development director Charlie Nichols told the board April 19 that since the county’s original proposal for hazardous pipeline setbacks was proposed, several additional concerns had been raised by county stakeholders and members of the public.

As a result, he said, “it is staff’s opinion that the best next step is to take this ordinance with those discussed changes back to the Planning and Zoning Commission before bringing it back to the Board of Supervisors for discussion, that changes will be substantial enough to warrant going back to the Planning and Zoning Commission.”

Those newly-raised issues, to be addressed in a revamped ordinance proposal, include the proper response to any emergencies, a pipeline’s impact on potential future growth areas, agricultural impacts and post-construction ag land restoration, and possible ecological impacts arising from pipeline construction.

Changes to setback distances, originally proposed from 2,000 to 2,500 feet depending on property usage, have also been proposed, Mr. Nichols said, as have increased requirements for construction inspections and increasing the capacity of emergency responders to handle pipeline-related safety issues.

Board chair Louie Zumbach said he had “no personal problems with going back to square one,” acknowledging that revising the ordinance could make it better.

“I look forward to us coming up with a new ordinance, and I think this is doing it the proper way,” supervisor Kirsten Running-Marquardt said. “As a county, we are not able to outlaw a pipeline coming through. But we are able to set some parameters.”

Supervisor Ben Rogers noted the county’s proposed ordinance has been governed in large part by public comment, since a hazardous material pipeline application hasn’t yet been presented to the board.

“We’ve been asked by several groups for time on our agenda for them to present their evidence or their research,” he said. “I think this makes infinitely more sense, one from a process standpoint, but two from a public engagement (perspective), that citizens impacted by this or who have opinions for and against can have a two-way dialogue with the board right now.”

He also noted that this ordinance process is different from the process used by the county on its renewable energy ordinance, because hazardous material pipeline companies have the authority to implement eminent domain measures along their route.

A Linn County hazardous material pipeline ordinance revision will require review by the county’s Planning and Zoning Commission and three readings by the board of supervisors before it can be formally approved.

The board had approved first consideration of the ordinance Dec. 12 on a 2-1 vote, but reconsidered the process after hearing comments from a number of concerned residents and holding a closed-session meeting with the county’s civil legal team Dec. 13.

The board decided to postpone the process indefinitely while further examining portions of the ordinance, particularly a clause that would permit setbacks of as little as 300 feet in residential areas for hazardous material pipelines approved by the Iowa Utilities Board, if the company installing the pipeline could make a sufficiently compelling case to reduce the setback.

The county’s action is being spurred by Wolf Carbon’s proposal to build a 280-mile carbon dioxide sequestration pipeline between Cedar Rapids and Decatur, Illinois. The pipeline, referred to as the Mt. Simon Hub, would transport liquefied CO2 through a pressurized 16-inch pipeline from ADM plants in Cedar Rapids and Clinton to an ADM sequestration facility near Decatur, Illinois, where the gas would be pumped underground at the Mt. Simon Sandstone saline reservoir for permanent storage.

A public informational meeting on the Wolf Carbon project was held Dec. 5 at the Hawkeye Downs Expo Center in Cedar Rapids, with dozens of attendees speaking against the plan.

More than a dozen area residents also spoke in opposition to the proposal at a formal public hearing, expressing concerns about pipeline safety and the proposed route’s proximity to populated areas.

Longer workdays for Duane Arnold Solar installation crews approved

Duane Arnold Solar
A detail map shows the plans for Duane Arnold Solar 1 (outlined in red) and Duane Arnold Solar II (outlined in purple). CREDIT LINN COUNTY

Also on April 19, the board approved a request from NextEra Energy to extend the workdays for crews as they begin construction of the Duane Arnold Solar I and II utility-scale solar energy projects near Palo.

NextEra project director Kimberly Dickey told the board at a work session April 17 that extending the work days would mitigate the project’s impact on adjacent landowners and allow crews to work more efficiently.

As part of the conditions set when the Board of Supervisors approved the Duane Arnold Solar projects in September 2022, construction activity was limited to the hours of 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. with exceptions made on a case-by-case basis.

“The intent of this was to basically be a good neighbor, to mitigate the impact of a summer of construction on the people who live out there,” Mr. Nichols told the board.

Ms. Dickey requested an extension of those construction hours, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. She said the earlier start time would allow crews to stage and prepare for their workday, while the later end time would allow time to close down their activities. Noise-generating activities, such as driving pilings, would still be limited to the 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. time frame, she said.

Ms. Dickey also requested permission for crews to work on Saturdays from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. as needed.

Several county residents spoke against the request, citing safety concerns with school bus routes and commuters, as well as the possibility of noise-generating activities for a longer period each day. However, Ms. Dickey said NextEra had consulted with local school districts and determined the earlier start times wouldn’t be a major safety concern for bus drivers.

Construction activities for the Duane Arnold Solar projects are expected to ramp up dramatically in the next few months, Ms. Dickey said. Several trees have already been removed in the project areas, she said, and after electrical permits for the sites are approved, “civil activities” can get under way, including projects such as erosion control measures, access road construction and the planting of vegetation.

She said about 20 employees are already working on various aspects of the project from NextEra’s office in Palo, but once a construction trailer is moved onto the project site, up to 60 workers could be on the Duane Arnold Solar sites by the end of May.

At the peak of construction, expected sometime this summer, up to 200 workers may be employed at the project site, Ms. Dickey added.

Florida-based NextEra will build the two large solar generation projects, dubbed Duane Arnold Solar I and II,  in the western portion of Linn County, on several parcels of land stretching generally northward from Palo to Center Point. Developers say the project will bring an overall estimated capital investment of $700 million and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 9.49 metric tons per year.

The project could be fully installed by the end of 2024, NextEra officials say.