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Iowa Company Botches Keystone XL Road Prep, Slaps Liens on Ranchers to Pay… Riot Boosting Ensues?

It’s a good thing Governor Noem pushed that riot-boosting act into law so quickly: we already have a regular emergency out in Meade County, with a “fuming mad” rancher speaking of impulses to commit physical violence against a TransCanada sub-sub-contractor:

JT Vig got “fuming mad.”

“It’s a good thing they weren’t standing there,” Vig said of the letter’s senders, “because I might’ve clocked them.”

The letters arrived earlier this month. They said mechanic’s liens had been filed against each rancher’s land by Brandenburg Drainage, of Maquoketa, Iowa [Seth Tupper, “Landowners Hit with $1 Million in Liens During Keystone XL Road Dispute,” Rapid City Journal, 2019.03.31].

Tupper explains that TransCanada, a Canadian company, engaged Diamond Willow Energy, a North Dakota company, to build up some of the gravel roads in West River that TransCanada will wear down while building the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Diamond Willow Energy in turn engaged Brandenburg Drainage, an Iowa company, to do the work.

(Hang on a moment: I won’t clock anyone over it, but I do wonder why South Dakota contractors aren’t getting these jobs.)

Diamond Willow says Brandenburg underbid the job, and some locals say the Iowans did poor work:

To make matters worse, some of the landowners said the Maurine Road job was botched. Weiss said he suffered several blown semitruck tires because of inappropriate rock and gravel that was used on the road.

“It was like arrowheads in sand and river silt,” Weiss said.

JC Johnson, of Diamond Willow, said his company plans to fix the road, and he is working with an attorney on a plan to get the liens released. He said Brandenburg Drainage underbid, overspent and under-performed on the job, and is now trying to use the liens to cover its losses.

“It’s not by our doing that they’re trying this,” Johnson said. “They didn’t bid the job right and they’re losing money. It’s plain and simple” [Tupper, 2019.03.31].

If I believed in conspiracy theories, I’d say TransCanada’s plan is clear: sabotage the roads so only the heaviest equipment can get through and so protestors’ Subarus and Prii end up with blown tires, then slap liens on land close to the construction for leverage to prevent landowners from giving protestors any sanctuary during the build. But conspiracy theories aren’t my gig.

I will say that rancher J.T. Vig gives us an early test of Governor Noem’s riot-boosting law. By speaking of his righteous outrage at a lien imposed by a subcontractor participating in the pipeline project, Vig could be perceived as encouraging participants in subsequent pipeline protests to acts that the state will characterize as violence.

I understand and sympathize deeply with rancher Vig’s displeasure at some Iowa company trying to take the costs of its own errors out of Vig’s hide. Just imagine how mad Vig will be when Governor Noem tries to make him pay a share of the cost for cuffing and stuffing the people who come to protest the pipeline that put Vig in this bad spot in the first place.


  1. mike from iowa 2019-03-31

    Sure makes one wonder whose side Noem is on. Doesn’t seem to be her constituents.

  2. jerry 2019-03-31

    I need JT Vig’s address so I can send him some riot money. If you cannot boost a threatened white rancher, then what are we doing here?

  3. Francis Schaffer 2019-03-31

    Diamond Willow as the sub contractor should have know the sub-sub contractor had the bid wrong and not chosen Brandenburg Drainage. I don’t believe in private business there is a requirement to take the lowest bidder. The sub contractor should be on the hook for the underperformance of the sub-sub contractor. I would think a contractor would have a bond or errors and omissions insurance sufficient to take care of the situation. It seems that the state should require this.

  4. mike from iowa 2019-03-31

    This pipeline is on hold in the courts, why are these tools allowed to work on it as if they are assured of the right court outcome? Isn’t that a tad presumptuous?

  5. mike from iowa 2019-03-31

    Brandenburg Drainage

    Brandenburg Drainage is a nationwide contractor with insured and safety-trained people to work in the lower 48 states. We have over 20 years experience in drain tile installation, right-of-way clearing, restoration, and drain tile repair on large-scale pipeline projects.

  6. grudznick 2019-03-31

    Is the fellow’s name “Vig” or “Vik?” Mr. H refers to him using both names on multiple occasions.

    Mr. H has been on a grammar-Nazi bent lately, so I hope he cleans up his blogging. Be a role model, Mr. H: make fewer grammar mistakes!

  7. Roger Cornelius 2019-03-31

    Is misspelling a name a grammatical error or a mistake?

  8. grudznick 2019-03-31

    Mr. H is always quick to criticize others for such things. I was quoting him on the “grammar” aspect, so I probably should have done that neat

    thing that Mr. Evans does in every single blogging he makes

    but it was just too good of an opportunity to enrage Mr. H with his own words, Mr. C.

  9. Debbo 2019-03-31

    I’m sure there are some ways that non SD businesses are missing where they can scam the state and individuals, but I suppose they’ll get around to more than we can imagine before this is over.

  10. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-04-01

    Sorry, Grudz—brain slipped once to a “k” and kept going in that last paragraph, I have revised the error and apologize to Mr. Vig, with hopes that I haven’t boosted him to clock me.

  11. David Newquist 2019-04-01

    I’m still stuck on what legal process gives a private company hired by another private company the right to place liens on the private property of landholders.

  12. mike from iowa 2019-04-01

    Doc, call iowa’s AG Tom Miller and ask him. I sincerely doubt the last several wingnut AGs from South Dakota could find their butts with either hand.

  13. Jake Kammerer 2019-04-01

    David, especially those who never ASKED for any road work be done! This is on the state of SD for its GOP driven lust for business “development’ by the state! Their absolute trust that Transcanada will “do” the right thing is laughable if so many good people woudn’t be hurt by it. No tax on the oil shipped thru the pipe either….

  14. bearcreekbat 2019-04-01

    Actually David, any individual or company may place a lien on real estate at any time. I don’t believe a register of deeds has the authority to refuse to accept this filing, assuming it is in statutorily correct form. It is not particularly unusual for someone to file a totally bogus lien as some sort of “legal weapon” to harm another person.

    The question is whether such a lien is valid and enforceable. I haven’t noticed a definitive answer here at this point. My guess is that the liens are unenforceable and would be quashed if landowners took the matter to court.

    I think Jake may be correct that other than public projects like sidewalks where the state or county is authorized by statute to bill adjoining landowners for improvements, or statutorily authorized liens to collect judgments, etc., the only valid lien for a private business would be a lien based upon doing improvements that a landowner, or contractor hired by the landowner, authorized. See generally, SDCL chap 44-9, and see in particlur SDCL 44-9-1 which provides in part:

    Persons entitled to lien–Property affected–Extent of lien–Exceptions. Whoever shall, at the request of the owner or the duly authorized agent or representative of the owner, or of any contractor or subcontractor, furnish skill, labor, services, including light, power, or water, equipment, or materials for the improvement, development, or operation of property as hereinafter specified, shall have a first lien thereon . . . . (italics added)

    Here, since no landowner requested this improvement and since it is for the benefit of a private company rather than the public, it is highly unlikely that these liens would be valid and enforceable.

    The downside, however, absent a statute sticking the losing business with it’s opponent’s attorney fees (I didn’t notice one), is that under the normal rule governing attorneys fees a prevailing landowners still will be stuck paying the full cost of employing an attorney, which can quickly add up.

  15. leslie 2019-04-01

    Isn’t riot boosting what trump does at every rally encouraging, defending violence? BTW Brendan’s lawsuit fails to mention the abuse of process Kristi used snaking the legislature/public at the last minute.

    Other abusers of process Kristi gets her marching orders are Bannon, Breitbart, Mercers, Kochs, scammer Trump, Putin, Un, Turkey’s Erdogan, Saudi high priest MBS, Xi; and Rupert Murdoch and all of Fox News and the rest of his media empire; and affiliate corporate shields/shills: HARTLAND INSTITUTE, hERITAGE FOUNDATION, CATO INSTITUTE, MANHATTEN INST PUBLIC POLICY, Center for Union Facts, and National Right to Work Cmttee.

    Not a healthy group to be formulating SD policy. Trump is toast. Will we wag the dog in Venezuela before we stop Trump and even Kristi?

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