Water woes: Martz claims pipeline company broke his well

Jacobs: Calhoun County won’t sign off on Dakota Access work until the company fixes Homer Martz’s well

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Homer Martz has been hauling water out to his home in this 600 gallon tank. Martz said his well went dry in July 2017, and he’s had to get water from elsewhere for washing and drinking ever since.

SOMERS — Homer Martz gained attention in 2016 when he was arrested for an upside-down flag protest against an oil pipeline. Martz said he isn’t against pipelines, and he wasn’t against the idea of an oil pipeline being built through Iowa near his home.

But when he learned the multi-state pipeline would pass between his rural Somers house and his water well — something he alleges he wasn’t told until late in the process after plans were already set — he began to protest, worried that the construction work would break his well.

The Dakota Access Pipeline was constructed in late 2016.

Martz’s well went dry in July 2017, and he claims it’s not a coincidence.

“I knew this was going to happen,” Martz said. “I seen the writing on the wall a long time ago.”

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Homer Martz poses at his well with a copy of the U.S. Constitution. Martz, a Vietnam veteran, says his right to due process was violated when a pipeline company came through and worked next to his well without involving him in the process from the beginning. He’s been hauling water out to his house ever since July 2017 when the well went dry.

He claims the pipeline work broke his water line, causing his water heater to burn up. He also says it knocked scale into the well, causing a bad odor in the water. Finally, that led to his well drying up entirely.

Dakota Access LLC says it has investigated Martz’s claims and claims that it didn’t break the water line or cause an odor.

The Texas-based company said the water company it hired to inspect Martz’s well was unable to do so because of the well’s “aged and unmaintained condition” and thus it has no way to substantiate Martz’s claim.

“Dakota Access LLC (DAPL) takes great pride in addressing landowner concerns, complaints and allegations. We have investigated and successfully resolved hundreds of such concerns or complaints across the four states that the Dakota Access Pipeline traverses,” wrote a representative for DAPL in a letter to Martz dated March 14. “The allegations concerning your water well are no exception.”

DAPL still has payments it needs to make for cleanup and fixes elsewhere after constructing the pipeline, according to Calhoun County Supervisor Scott Jacobs.

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Homer Martz examines his well in rural Somers. Martz claims his water began stinking shortly after crews building the Dakota Access Pipeline came through working right next to the well; and that it went dry shortly after for the first time in 20 years.

Jacobs said the county will consider Martz’s well before signing off on that process.

“They have to come back in and finish fixing tiles and stuff like that are possibly broke,” Jacobs said. “They still have to compensate the farmers for lost crops.

“They have to come in yet, and they have to have a hearing with us. Then the county’s got to sign off that, yes, as far as we know, everything’s fixed.

“We keep telling them until Homer’s well is fixed we’re not going to sign that.”

According to Martz, he was initially told the pipeline would be constructed north of his property.

Later, Martz said, he learned the route had changed and the pipeline would go through his neighbor’s property. Martz’s well is on the neighbor’s property. Martz has had a permanent easement to access it for as long as he’s lived there.

While his neighbor was notified of DAPL’s plans, Martz said he wasn’t.

“I was never included on any of the meetings. I don’t know why,” he said.

He takes that oversight seriously. Martz believes his constitutional right to due process was violated.

“I want to know,” Martz said, “who enforces the U.S. Constitution?

“I’m saying the Iowa Utility Board broke the law by not letting me be represented at the utility board,” he continued. “The 14th Amendment guarantees me due process. They took my land without due process.

“I’m a veteran. I fought for every one of these rights. I’ve been willing to die for every one of these rights. I’ve been shot at for a few of these rights.”

The pipeline company began holding public meetings in late 2014 to inform landowners along the route of the line. The Iowa Utilities Board approved the pipeline permit in March 2016, also allowing Dakota Access to use eminent domain to work on land of unwilling landowners.

Martz’s neighbor, Ken Anderson, had a work easement taken through eminent domain in July 2016. When appearing before the compensation board, Anderson complained that Martz was not notified by Dakota Access that the work could affect him, nor told about the proceedings.

“Who is going to be responsible for this well if this guy is without water for a month or two?” Anderson asked in 2016.

Martz has been bringing in water from elsewhere ever since his well failed in July 2017.

Last summer he had a 300-gallon tank to haul water, he said. During the winter months he carried water from his daughter’s house in 2 1/2 gallon jugs and gallon jugs.

He currently has a 600-gallon tank he borrowed from a farmer.

“I improvise. I get by,” he said. “I’ve been hauling water for about a year now. I use the black jugs to heat water so I can take a bath. I use an old coffee pot in my bathroom so I’ve got hot water in my bathroom now.”

According to Martz, the failure at his well happened after the heavy machinery constructing the pipeline worked close to the well.

“They were on top of my well with their heavy equipment,” he said. “My house is up there, and my house shook with their equipment running back and forth in my field.”

Martz said the pipeline company told him they wouldn’t work on his land without telling him first.

But that didn’t happen, Martz claims. In fact, Martz said, the company laid the pipe near his well while he was out of town, without notifying him, and he came home to find his water heater broken.

Martz claimed in September 2016 the company broke the water main or electric line to the pump. Though they fixed it, this left the water heater dry and it burned up, he said.

The company said it investigated Martz’s claim and explained to him that “neither the water line nor the electrical line had been cut during construction,” the company wrote. “Photographs were provided to you which demonstrated the water and electrical lines stayed intact during construction.”

On February 8, 2017, Martz told The Messenger that the water from his well had developed a nasty odor, making it practically unusable. He claimed this was because heavy machinery broke scale loose in the well, which then fell into the water.

Dakota Access said it hired two different third parties to test Martz’s well water, in response to one complaint in February 2017 and another in March 2017.

The first analysis showed pipeline construction had no impact on the quality of water in the well, the company wrote. The second showed “There was no evidence that pipeline construction had caused any change in the odor of the water in your well.”

After Martz’s well went dry, Dakota Access hired Thorpe Water to examine the well. They were unable to lower the camera into the well, the company wrote, because the pull pipe was damaged and the pitless adapter could not be removed, due to “age and poor maintenance.”

Dakota Access is still willing to examine the well, it wrote, if Martz will remove the pitless adapter and pump at his own cost and risk.

“Given that a visual inspection down the well is not possible due to the pitless adapter remaining intact and not being removed, we struggle to understand why you believe the well has collapsed,” the company wrote. “Because of its condition DAPL will not remove any parts or components of your well for you in order to accomplish this inspection.”

Martz claims the well was stuck because of damage from the construction process.

“The reason they can’t pull the plug out of the well is they broke all that sediment, and it set down in the water and it settles into the crack, into the plug,” he said. “When the well went dry, all that sediment was in there and it stuck the plug.”

Martz claims he’s been denied justice because he can’t afford it.

“When we started this, all the lawyers told me you’re screwed,” Martz said, laughing. “One wanted a $2,000 retainer, but said you’re screwed. … The well driller said, ‘You can hire a lawyer and they’ll produce 100 lawyers to your one and you’re screwed.’

“Oil companies do not replace wells.”

Martz said all he wants is water and for his rights to be honored.

“I done 24 years in the military. I draw retirement. I should be afforded the rights of the Constitution of the United States,” Martz said. “That’s all I’ve ever said.”

Jacobs, the county supervisor, said most of this issue is beyond the county’s control.

Calhoun County does still plan to hold a hearing to discuss crop loss, broken tile or any other issues from pipeline construction that still need to be cleared up. There may be farmers or landowners with something that’s not fixed, Jacobs said, and the county won’t know about it until they hold the public meeting.

The process was supposed to be completed in October, Jacobs said.

He’s not sure if this will ultimately help Martz or not.

“We keep trying to tell these guys when they come in with their punch list that we’re not going to sign off on stuff until they take care of his well,” Jacobs said. “I don’t think they have to listen to us on that.”

DAPL’s letter to Martz said the company has done essentially all it can do for him.

“Based on the information we have as of the date of this letter, we cannot substantiate any of your claims,” it wrote. “While we remain committed to being good corporate stewards by investigating and responding to any such concerns, and have in fact spent thousands of dollars investigating your claims, we are becoming hesitant in our review of the legitimacy of your allegations given that none have proven true thus far.”