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ND ag commissioner proposes pipeline reclamation inspection program

BISMARCK, N.D. -- North Dakota's agriculture commissioner said Oct. 16 he will ask the state Legislature for funding for two inspectors to help resolve complaints from landowners, farmers and ranchers unhappy with how their land has been restored...

BISMARCK, N.D. -- North Dakota's agriculture commissioner said Oct. 16 he will ask the state Legislature for funding for two inspectors to help resolve complaints from landowners, farmers and ranchers unhappy with how their land has been restored around pipelines.

Commissioner Doug Goehring, a Republican who faces a stiff challenge in the November election from former state senator Ryan Taylor, says depending on the season, he receives several calls a month from landowners with concerns about pipeline reclamation, but he doesn't have time to follow up on all of them.

"I have to take people at their words, and then I end up calling the company or the contractor and talking to them about the concern that's out there," he says. "I'm assuming it's getting dealt with, because I'm not getting any calls back."

Under his proposed Pipeline Reclamation Inspection Program, one of two Department of Agriculture inspectors would meet with the landowner on site, prepare a written report, contact the pipeline operator or contractor and work with both sides to come up with a "reasonable approach" to correct the issue in an acceptable time frame, Goehring says.

The inspector would follow up to ensure the work was completed in a satisfactory and timely manner. If the parties can't agree, the case could go to the North Dakota Mediation Service, Goehring says.

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Goehring estimates the program would cost nearly $600,000 in the 2015 to '17 biennium. The money wasn't included in his budget request, but he says it has the governor's support and will be offered as standalone legislation.

Taylor points out that reclamation and mediation are two of the five planks in the Landowner's Bill of Rights he unveiled in June.

"I think our presence in this race is kind of forcing the commissioner to do his job," he says.

Taylor says he has seen open pipeline trenches and spoken with landowners frustrated that they haven't been filled in after long periods of time.

"The need is there and it will have to come at a cost, and with leadership we would certainly advance that so that landowners are taken care of," he says.

State Sen. Kelly Armstrong, R-Dickinson, who appeared at the Oct. 16 press conference with Goehring in support of the proposal, says it would head off complaints before they reach the courts or regulatory action.

Landowners also will be more likely to sign easements for new pipelines if they feel they have a "real voice," which will lead to more pipelines going into the ground and a reduction in rail delays and natural gas flaring, Armstrong says.

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