Carbon pipeline company loses attempt to hold farmer in contempt

June 1, 2023

ABERDEEN — A company proposing a carbon-capture pipeline lost its attempt to hold a farmer in contempt of court for allegedly threatening to shoot land surveyors.

Johsua Haiar with South Dakota Searchlight reports Judge Richard Sommers presided over the hearing Wednesday at the Brown County Courthouse. He declined to hold the farmer, Jared Bossly, in contempt but ordered lawyers for both sides to determine an acceptable time for the surveyors to do their work.

State law allows pipeline companies that have requested a permit from the Public Utilities Commission to conduct surveys without a landowner’s permission, after providing 30 days’ notice to the landowner. Sommers recently upheld that right after a group of landowners sued to challenge it, and that decision is being appealed to the state Supreme Court; meanwhile, Summit claimed Bossly should be held in contempt for making threats that prevented surveyors from doing their job.

In an interview after Wednesday’s proceeding on the contempt claim, Bossly denied the allegations against him and said his name has been tarnished. But the court did not give Bossly and his lawyer an opportunity to present their version of events.

Judge Sommers did not hear evidence regarding whether or not the allegation was true. He said the only point of Wednesday’s hearing was to decide if Bossly was in contempt of court.

About 50 opponents of the pipeline project attended the hearing in support of Bossly. Some alleged in interviews with South Dakota Searchlight that the company fabricated the confrontation to make an example of Bossly, and to intimidate landowners. Craig Schaunaman, who farms near Bossly, said he saw Bossly around the time the alleged threatening phone call took place, but didn’t see any strange behavior.

“The accusations just don’t hold up,” Schaunaman said. “I saw him across the road that day.”

Bossly’s attorney, Brian Jorde, said the judge’s decision was the right one, but Jorde wanted a chance to lay out evidence in support of his client.

“We want to clear his name,” Jorde said during the court proceeding. “The allegations are still out there, and we want to correct the record.”

Summit Carbon Solutions’ lawyer, Justin Bell, said the company’s only goal was to move forward with the surveying work while ensuring everyone’s safety.

“If he’s willing to do what the court says,” Bell said of Bossly during the court hearing, “we wouldn’t necessarily oppose that.”

According to Bossly, the surveyors unexpectedly entered his house recently and began calling out for him while he was away in a field, alarming his wife who was at home showering. Bossly said the surveyors then proceeded to enter his workshop, which he said is on a section of land Summit Carbon Solutions is not permitted to enter without permission.

Bossly said his wife then called him, explained the situation, and held the phone up to the surveying contractors.

“The phone call that they allege all this stuff went on was a six-second phone call,” Bossly told South Dakota Searchlight. “And all I said was, ‘If it’s the Summit surveyors, then the sheriff should be involved.’”

Summit Carbon Solutions alleged Bossly told the surveyors he’d shoot the first person he saw.

Last month, Summit Carbon Solutions initiated dozens of eminent domain proceedings in state court – including against Bossly. Eminent domain is a legal process for gaining access to build a project on private land when the landowner won’t grant permission.

The estimated $4.5 billion Summit Carbon Solutions pipeline would collect carbon dioxide emitted from more than 30 ethanol plants in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota, and transport it in liquefied form to be stored underground in North Dakota.

The pipeline would cover 1,958 miles, with 474 miles crossing 18 counties in South Dakota. The company says it would transport up to 12 million tons of carbon per year.

Carbon sequestration would enable ethanol plants to sell more of their fuel in states and countries with stricter emission standards, and also could make projects eligible for billions of dollars in federal tax credits and position them to sell carbon offsets to other companies that emit carbon dioxide.

The pipeline needs a permit from South Dakota’s Public Utilities Commission. A public hearing on the application is scheduled for Sept. 11-22.

A separate company, Navigator CO2 Ventures, is proposing another carbon pipeline that would also cross South Dakota. The PUC hearing on the Heartland Greenway pipeline project is scheduled for July 25-Aug. 3.