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Jury trial avoided in Grand Forks, N.D., Sandpiper Pipeline case

A Grand Forks County landowner is one step closer to appealing his case to the North Dakota Supreme Court after a hearing over a crude oil pipeline that's slated to run through his property.

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James Botsford. (Forum News Service)

A Grand Forks County landowner is one step closer to appealing his case to the North Dakota Supreme Court after a hearing over a crude oil pipeline that's slated to run through his property.

James Botsford appeared Tuesday in Grand Forks County District Court with his wife Krista. The Wisconsin couple was sued last year by North Dakota Pipeline Co. in effort to obtain an easement over his land west of Emerado for the planned Sandpiper Pipeline, a $2.6 billion project that will carry Bakken crude oil from western North Dakota to Wisconsin.

A jury trial scheduled this week was intended to determine compensation to the Botsfords for the easement, but the two sides reached a figure and avoided a trial. Still, James Botsford said he intends to appeal the company's use of eminent domain to use their land in the first place.

"The only reason to go through the trial was so that we could get to our appeal," the Botsfords' attorney Derrick Braaten said.

Grand Forks County District Court Judge Debbie Kleven previously ruled in favor of NDPL, arguing that the pipeline would serve a public use. She left open the issue of financial compensation to the Botsfords.

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"I don't really want to be here," James Botsford said from the stand Tuesday. "I don't want them to take my land."

Appeal

The company will deposit roughly $12,000 to the court to settle the case. Refusing that sum preserves the the couple's right to appeal, James Botsford said.

Braaten said an appeal would be filed in the next 30 to 60 days.

NDPL is a joint venture between Enbridge Energy Partners and a subsidiary of Marathon Petroleum Corp. The company hopes the 610-mile pipeline will be in service by 2017.

The Sandpiper has already received approval from the North Dakota Public Service Commission, but Minnesota regulators haven't finalized a route.

"Today, James and Krista Botsford and North Dakota Pipeline Co. LLC reached an agreement for a 50-foot easement to construct, operate and maintain the Sandpiper Pipeline on the Botsfords' property," Enbridge spokeswoman Lorraine Little wrote in an email. "The Botsfords continue to own and have use of their property."

Botsford said Tuesday's events are more of a "stepping stone to an appeal."

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In support

Botsford opposes NDPL's "abuse" of eminent domain, but also worries about the continued reliance on fossil fuels and their effect on the environment. Testifying Tuesday, he cited the potential for spills and leaks.

The hearing attracted a handful of environmental activists. A canvas painting decrying the effect of crude oil and hydraulic fracturing on the environment was stretched across the courthouse lawn Tuesday morning.

"We came up here from Chicago in the wee hours of the morning to just be in support (of the Botsfords)," said Jimmy Betts, who said he works with the group Beyond Extreme Energy.

Botsford, who was born and raised in Grand Forks, explained he and his brother split the land they inherited from their parents after they died. He previously told the Herald most of it is in the Conservation Reserve Program while the rest is leased out to neighboring farmers.

In an essay posted online, Botsford said they began getting calls and offers to allow the pipeline to go through their property, which they refused. A final offer of $38,000 was submitted in May 2014, about two months before the lawsuit was filed.

"Despite its making every reasonable and diligent effort, NDPL has been unable to secure an easement and right-of-way from defendants through negotiation," the lawsuit, filed in June 2014, states.

After Tuesday's hearing, Botsford expressed frustration that they weren't being given enough opportunities to argue their case.

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"It seems like we ought to at least be heard," Botsford said.

Related Topics: NORTH DAKOTA
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