Illinois wants Spire to show it shouldn’t be held in contempt over its embattled pipeline
Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul has filed a show cause petition against the Spire STL Pipeline in the St. Louis region.
The filing last month in Greene County Circuit Court asks that a judge order Spire to appear and demonstrate why it should not be held in contempt.
“It’s not a common occurrence by any means,” said Gillian Giannetti, a senior attorney with the nonprofit environmental advocacy group NRDC. “Most pipelines that are built do not … do so in a way that could raise questions about whether these environmental laws and expectations have been broken.”
In its petition, Illinois said Spire failed to comply with a consent order from 2021 requiring that it place proper measures against erosion. The state alleges the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency observed active erosion at multiple properties occurring as a result of Spire’s reclamation work associated with the pipeline project.
“Defendant Spire’s failure to implement or maintain adequate erosion control measures is causing, threatening, or allowing discharges of contaminants — including but not limited to silt, sand, sediment, vegetation, riprap, and construction debris — into waters of the State” in violation of state law, the petition reads.
The filing lists many other violations of Illinois state law.
Giannetti has followed this project for years and said the move by Illinois is just another twist in the saga of Spire’s controversial pipeline, including when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit struck down federal regulators’ authorization of it.
“There have been several notices through the federal government talking about (Spire’s) failure to properly remedy properties to the condition in which they were prior to construction,” she said.
Part of the requirements placed on Spire during construction included an Agricultural Impact Mitigation Agreement with Illinois, which provides guidelines to limit agricultural damages. These provisions are often used to ensure that the land damaged by construction is restored to how it was beforehand.
But that hasn’t been the case for many landowners whose property Spire’s pipeline traverses.
“They ruined it is what they did,” said Bob Hart, who owns a farm in Greene County. “I just sit here and look at this place, and it’s nothing but a bunch of weeds.”
Hart said the portion of his farm where Spire constructed the pipeline is unusable now because the company compacted the soil and left construction debris behind, sometimes buried in the ground.
“I haven’t taken any crop off it for years,” he said. “I’m afraid to put the combine there because something is going to come up.”
Like other property owners, Hart also takes issue with how Spire has engaged with him. He recalled a moment where a few of the company’s workers told him the part of his property with the pipeline on it no longer belonged to him.
“One kid walked up behind me and said, ‘It’s ours now, we’ll do what we want,’” Hart said. “I don’t want one of them back on the place to try and straighten anything out because I know they won’t do it right.”
Hart added that most of the other representatives from Spire were more respectful of him in other instances. And he said he’s generally supportive of pipelines.
“It’s the safest way to handle stuff, and it’s the best way to handle stuff,” Hart said. “But for Spire to do what they’ve done and to say, ‘To hell with you guys,’ it’s not right.”
Spire did not specifically comment on the petition from Illinois, but in a statement the company said it is “ready and willing” to address all landowner concerns with restoration issues. The company points to 179 landowners who have seen their property restored and said 15 remaining owners with outstanding concerns have refused the company access to perform restoration.
“I played ball with them, I let them come in and try to renovate my property. Every time they touch it, it gets worse,” said Jacob Gettings, who has a farm in Jersey County. “I still have buried debris all over the farm. My drain tiles still are not fixed, they didn’t even address that.”
Spire’s characterization of other property owners being content with the company’s restoration work is not the reality he sees or hears from his neighbors, Gettings said.
“As far as everybody else being satisfied? They’re not,” he said.
Gettings added he’s encouraged that the state filed this petition and that other political leaders are giving the issue attention, like Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth.
“No one knows their land better than the landowners themselves,” Duckworth wrote in an August letter to Willie L. Phillips, acting chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the body that approves pipelines. “It is clear that (Spire does not) acknowledge or comprehend the extent of the damage done to these individuals.”