Legislator is against proposal
DICKINSON, N.D. — A state legislator whose district includes a majority of the “extraordinary places” named by the state’s attorney general does not support the proposal because of concerns over what it would do for private landowners.
Most of the 18 sites proposed to be protected are in Sen. Bill Bowman’s District 39, including Tracy Mountain, Black Butte, White Butte, Pretty Butte and Sentinel Butte.
As a decision looms from the North Dakota Industrial Commission on the “extraordinary places” proposal, opponents are ramping up measures against it — and informing others about it.
Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem introduced the proposal, which would require a closer look at applications to drill near sites on the list. Gov. Jack Dalrymple and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring also sit on the commission, and the three will address the proposal at their next meeting, tentatively set for March 3.
Goehring has said the issue of public comment affecting private land is “probably that last sticking point.”
The commission has received hundreds of comments on the proposal.
Bowman held a meeting Tuesday with Slope County commissioners and local landowners, many of whom he said are against the proposal, and will be putting calls into the offices of the Industrial Commission members.
“None of them could understand why they were doing this,” he said. “They didn’t feel like they got a whole lot of say in this.”
He said more meetings are being planned among opponents.
“There’s a lot of people that are really stirred up out here,” he said.
Approving this proposal is a slippery slope, said Bowman and Dwight Wrangham, Bismarck director of the Landowners Association of North Dakota.
“If they start with having to do this for drilling an oil well or a gas well, for instance, how much further is it to the point where if a farmer wants to erect a grain bin that he will also have to go through a comment period which will probably be dominated by special interest groups,” Wrangham said.
He said public comment periods are too often dominated by special interest groups such as the Sierra Club.
Bowman and Wrangham have both distributed letters to the editor.
Bowman said he wrote his letter to inform.
“When I heard about this I had no knowledge that this was even going on,” he said, and he only found out how many of the sites are in his district upon looking at the original draft.
Fellow District 39 legislator Rep. David Drovdal is on the same page.
“I agree with Sen. Bowman’s stand that it’s infringing on the rights of private property owners,” he said.
“I agree there’s sites in North Dakota that we do want to protect, but we’ve got to be very careful because personal rights … should be No. 1.”
Bowman isn’t the first legislator to publicly voice his problems with the proposal.
In a column sent to newspapers last month, Minot Rep. Roscoe Streyle wrote that the proposal is a “direct attack” on the “free market capitalist system.”
Dickinson Sen. Kelly Armstrong sent a letter to the Industrial Commission last month about the transparency of the proposal’s drafting and “serious private property rights concerns.”
Opponents to the proposal are quick to say they realize some places deserve protection — but insist the existing regulations are protection enough.
“We already have the state agencies in place that do the permitting and so forth and so on, and the health department and all kinds of departments get involved in that,” Wrangham said, “so there’s already the necessary protections of those special places.”
He said the landowners association’s board of directors discusses how to “stop this effort” at its meetings.
Bowman said he’s concerned special interest groups’ opinions will take priority over private landowners with the 10-day comment period the proposal mandates for permitting in protected places.
“I think the private landowners have every right to tell them to stay off their land,” Bowman said.
“All of a sudden what you want has no bearing,” he said. “It’s what all of these other groups want.”
The commission is accepting comments until 5 p.m. Central Standard Time on Feb. 25. Instructions for commenting and a draft of the proposal can be found at nd.gov/ndic/drill.htm.