Landowner Prevails in North Dakota Eminent Domain Pipeline Lawsuit

Associated Press writer Blake Nicholson reported yesterday that, “A judge has dismissed Montana-Dakota Utilities’ eminent domain lawsuit over a proposed half-mile natural gas pipeline in northern North Dakota, a decision hailed by landowner attorneys as a rare victory.

North Central District Judge Gary Lee ruled May 29 that harm to private landowner Lavern Behm outweighed any public benefits from the pipeline. Pipelines have become a contentious issue in North Dakota since the prolonged and sometimes violent protests against the $3.8 billion, four-state Dakota Access oil pipeline in 2016 and 2017.

MDU sought an easement across Behm’s property in Ward County to build a 3,000-foot-long (915-meter-long) pipeline to service a BNSF Railway facility west of Minot. The railroad maintains and operates a switch heated in the winter with propane tanks near the private property to keep it free of snow and ice. MDU proposed replacing the tanks with the underground pipeline, according to court records.”

The AP article explained that, “Bismarck attorney Derrick Braaten has represented landowners in dozens of eminent domain cases. He said most landowner victories amount to increased compensation for the use of their land, and that it’s rare for a judge to entirely bar the taking of private property.

“Braaten said the Ward County case, though involving a small pipeline, touches on a larger issue.

“‘The big ones that are a question right now are these interstate pipelines,’ he said. ‘I think there is kind of a looming question out there, is that a public purpose?‘”

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