WATERTOWN, S.D. — Advocating for property rights and educating the public on eminent domain laws was the theme of a panel discussion held by the South Dakota Farmers Union during the Watertown Winter Farm Show on Feb. 7.
“This affects every South Dakotan that has property, and when I mean property, I’m even talking about your own automobile,” said Doug Sombke, Conde, South Dakota, farmer and South Dakota Farmers Union president. “They could use eminent domain to take anything away from you according to the laws in South Dakota today.”
Sombke spoke on the panel along with Spink County Commissioner Suzanne Smith and Brown County farmer Craig Schaunaman.
While South Dakota Farmers Union originally wanted to stay neutral on the carbon pipeline discussion, a number of their members received eminent domain requests, and the organization felt it was time to advocate for their members and the state.
“I want everyone to know that I, personally, and the South Dakota Farmers Union are not against ethanol,” said Sombke. “What we found out as we started doing this is that eminent domain laws are pretty much wild, wild west here in South Dakota. Anyone can use it, not just the utilities, but also people that are looking for something for private gain.”
Sombke pointed out that the goal isn’t to get rid of eminent domain, but instead to reestablish it.
“We’d like to see two different levels of eminent domain, one for the public use, and then also one for private gain, and then what they have to do to get that eminent domain,” Sombke said.
As a county commissioner, Smith helped write
that denied permits to the carbon pipeline companies.
Smith said that the passing of the ordinance was an effort of commissioners standing together while the pipeline companies aimed to divide them.
“It was a matter of trying to divide us by pulling a couple of us off to a private meeting, to talk to them and get them on their side. It was just mainly trying to divide our commissioners, and we weren’t going to do it. I mean, if you can’t bring something to the public at our meeting, we’re not going to go visit with you in a dark room. It just doesn’t happen that way,” Smith said. “We want to be visible, we invite anybody to come to our commissioners meetings, voice your opinion. That’s what we’re there for, is to listen. We didn’t put an ordinance in to keep something out, we put an ordinance in to protect the citizens of the county.”
Smith hopes that the eminent domain laws in the state will be revisited in an effort to stop situations like this from happening.
According to Schaunaman, a bill passed through the Legislature allowing common carriers, meaning pipelines, to use eminent domain in 2016, which is how Summit Carbon Solutions and Navigator CO2 obtained initial permits.
“I often say it’s not what landowner rights we have in South Dakota, but the lack of landowner rights we have,” Schaunaman said. “We really, truly do not have a lot of landowner rights in South Dakota.”
Schaunaman brings first-hand experience to the conversation as he and his brother were a part of the 160 landowners with condemnation lawsuits against them by Summit Carbon Solutions in 2023.
Since then, Schaunaman and his family have tried to bring awareness and education to the situation.
“No matter what your position is, always take time to educate yourself. Be patient if they do approach you with an easement, whether it’s a pipeline, wind or solar easement, and reach out to people,” Schaunaman said. “There’s a lot of valuable resources out there within communities and a lot of lawyers have become very in tune with wind easements, solar easements and pipeline easements.”
is one group committed to providing education and resources to the public. According to their website, South Dakotans First is a statewide grassroots coalition dedicated to safeguarding and upholding the property rights of individuals against the encroachment and profit-seeking actions of out-of-state corporations.
The group conducted a survey in September 2023 and results showed over 80% of South Dakota voters oppose eminent domain for private use and 66% strongly oppose it.
Even with the large majority of voters opposing eminent domain for private use, concerns regarding the state Legislature were voiced during the panel discussion.
“I think they’re working the edges of what needs to be done. They’re addressing some of the survey issues that are out there. I really don’t believe the Legislature has the appetite to get to the root of the problem,” Schaunaman said. “I think the important thing is to be able to educate the general public in the eminent domain and condemnation process.”
While there have been some bills regarding eminent domain and property rights introduced and debated this legislative session, the group advocates for the defeat of
which will provide new statutory requirements for regulating linear transmission facilities and to declare an emergency.
South Dakotans First says that this bill will strip local control of the situation and hand over control to outside interests. The bill was introduced Jan. 31 and is currently making its way through committee hearings.
Although eminent domain and the carbon pipeline debate has been an issue mainly involving those in agriculture, Sombke says it’s only a matter of time before it affects others.
“I really hope people can start taking this to heart and even if you think this doesn’t affect you, at some point or time in your life, it probably will. As right now, it just happens to be affecting a number of family farmers and ranchers in small communities.”
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