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Stenehjem rules Dakota Access purchase of ranch legal

BISMARCK--The recent land purchase by Dakota Access LLC of ranch land along the Dakota Access Pipeline route is in compliance with state corporate farming law, according to North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.

BISMARCK-The recent land purchase by Dakota Access LLC of ranch land along the Dakota Access Pipeline route is in compliance with state corporate farming law, according to North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.

Stenehjem said Tuesday in a press release that, in his initial review, he's determined that the purchase is "temporarily necessary for commercial development" and therefore meets an industrial and business purpose exception in state corporate farming law.

Dakota Access, a partner of Energy Transfer Partners LP, purchased about 7,000 acres of private ranch land in Morton County in September along the route for the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The company has claimed the purchase was necessary due to members of the ongoing protest movement camping near the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's reservation border, resulting in repeated interruptions to construction activities. The company claimed the purchase provided for a safer environment for construction workers to do their jobs.

The land is located to the north of where protesters have been camping for months. Opponents of the 1,172-mile, $3.8 billion pipeline have argued that the pipeline could contaminate Missouri River water in the event of a leak. The project is planned to go under the river, which has led to numerous demonstrations since August and prompted hundreds of arrests.

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Dakota Access has entered into an interim agreement that enables North Dakota to file a lawsuit at any time to enforce the state's corporate farming law if a violation occurs, Stenehjem said in the release.

The agreement went into effect Nov. 10 and expires Dec. 31, 2017.

During the period of the agreement, the attorney general's office will continue to monitor the company's compliance and take action if any violations are discovered.

The agreement says, after the expiration of the agreement or after the project is complete, the company must use the property for some use applicable under the corporate farming law or within one years' time transfer ownership of the property.

North Dakota Farm Bureau President Daryl Lies said he hadn't yet seen the decision by Stenehjem's office.

He said on first glance it sounded to him as though a sale between a willing seller and willing buyer of private land had been upheld. He said private landowners should be able to do with their property as they wish.

"I think that's a positive for private property rights," Lies said of the decision.

North Dakota Farmers Union President Mark Watne had just received word of the decision late Tuesday afternoon.

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"There's reasons why corporations can't own land and there's reasons why corporations can own land," said Watne, adding he would need time to review the decision.

North Dakota's corporate farming law has been on the books since 1932.

Bismarck lawyer Sarah Vogel, a former state agriculture commissioner with knowledge of the state's corporate farming law, was reviewing Tuesday's decision and didn't immediately provide comment Tuesday afternoon.

Vogel has previously questioned the need for Dakota Access to have thousands of acres of land when the company already has a construction and pipeline easement for the project.

A Dakota Access spokeswoman didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Related Topics: DAKOTA ACCESS PIPELINE
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