South Dakotans First forms to change state eminent domain laws

Three statewide organizations are banding together for a campaign, looking to change South Dakota’s eminent domain laws.
Published: Oct. 12, 2023 at 6:28 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Three statewide organizations are banding together for a campaign, looking to change South Dakota’s eminent domain laws.

Dakota Rural Action, Landowners for Eminent Domain Reform, and the South Dakota Farmers Union are the founding organizations of South Dakotans First. The campaign is looking to the 2024 legislative session in Pierre, as they look for lawmakers to address those laws in response to proposed carbon dioxide pipeline projects.

Although both Summit Carbon Solutions and Navigator were denied their permit requests earlier this year, both have indicated that they will try again. South Dakota Farmers Union Doug Sombke said those eminent domain laws need to change sooner rather than later, and this new campaign will be a unifying voice for many.

“The cheap slogan that I use is eminent domain for private gain is no way to go. We want it for public use only,” Sombke said.

By public use, Sombke said, the issue comes down to what commodity would go through landowners’ properties. He gave the example of electricity, transportation, or other public goods or services that can continue to follow the same eminent domain laws. But he said if a company is looking to make a profit, the use of eminent domain should be much stricter.

“We’re not against eminent domain per se. But it has to be limited on it’s use. If it’s done for the public use, it’s one thing. If it’s going to build a new fire department or a new hospital, or a new highway or bridge, that kind of thing it’s a whole other deal,” Sombke said. “There’s a number of businesses that we’re associated with. East River Electric for instance, Basin Electric. Those types of public entity businesses. It’s something that they almost need to have that at certain times. They don’t use it unless they have to.”

Polling provided by South Dakotans First finds that before people were given information about carbon dioxide pipelines, 58 percent of likely South Dakota voters opposed eminent domain for private use, including 42 percent that “strongly opposed” the action. The polling then said that after those polled were given arguments for and against pipelines, that opposition increased to 78 percent overall, including 60 percent who listed “strongly opposed”.

Sombke said the polling also shows that the issue over carbon dioxide pipelines and eminent domain isn’t a political one. He said a majority of both Republicans and Democrats oppose the use of eminent domain for private use.

The campaign wants to see landowners have the right to not allow surveys, soil samples, or other work done on their property without permission, something that the campaign said is currently in a grey area. Ultimately, it’s having the ability to say no to a project that landowners want to have.

“We didn’t have a choice. We did not want Dakota Access or Summit’s pipelines crossing our land. We should have a choice, the choice to agree to a project, or the choice to say,’ No, thank you,’” Joy Hohn with Landowners for Eminent Domain Reform said.

Aaron Johnson, a landowner and member of Dakota Rural Action, said he doesn’t feel safe as one of the proposed carbon dioxide pipelines would sit less than a thousand feet from his home. As an organic producer, he also said there’s little these pipelines would do to financially support his family.

“Thousands of South Dakotans are going to find themselves in a similar situation if this pipeline comes through. That being that there is no benefit to many, many South Dakotans if this comes through,” Johnson said. “They want to socialize the risks, and privatize the profits.”

Sombke said the recent announcement from Summit Carbon Solutions to give grants to county emergency management departments is “a bribe,” and he wondered how long it will take companies to realize that the issue isn’t about money.

MORE: Summit Carbon Solutions offers grants, landowners skeptical

“This last Tuesday, [Summit Carbon Solutions] they came to Brown County and to Spink County, and offered them a $50,000 grant to their rescue crews. Bribe money, in my opinion,” Sombke said. “When are they going to get it, that farmers and ranchers, and these communities that they’re affecting, don’t give a damn about the money? That’s not the point, is it? The point is that we want them to listen to us and respect us. That’s it.”

The three organizations said that funding for the campaign is coming from their organizations alone, all made up of South Dakota residents. Coming together as a unified voice helps them all, as it would be much harder for legislators to ignore when voicing their concerns.

“It’s just like they always say. You can break one stick, but if you bundle them together, they’re harder to break. That’s exactly where we’re at today, and plus it gives you respect. These people deserve respect, their legislators deserve to respect them,” Sombke said.

While changing eminent domain laws is the current goal of the campaign, Sombke also said it’s not the only issue they could address. He said after the announcement that a new state penitentiary would be placed in rural Lincoln County, he said they could work together with landowners there to see if their concerns are being addressed in the future.

MORE: Land in Lincoln County selected for new men’s prison