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Regulators consider first major ND pipeline since Dakota Access

Troy Eid, an attorney who specializes in Native American law, speaks to the Bakken Conference & Expo in Bismarck. Also pictured is Craig Stevens, spokesman for Grow America's Infrastructure Now, who joined a discussion about the aftermath of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. (Amy Dalrymple, Bismarck Tribune file photo)

BISMARCK — The North Dakota Public Service Commission will hold public hearings starting Monday, July 24, on the largest pipeline proposed in the state since the Dakota Access Pipeline protests.

Commissioner Julie Fedorchak said she hasn't heard of opposition to the project proposed by Cenex Pipeline LLC, but the commission has notified local law enforcement about the hearings.

"We want to make sure we're prepared for any type of protest," Fedorchak said.

Cenex, a subsidiary of CHS, proposes to build a 180-mile pipeline from Sidney, Mont., to Minot to transport refined fuels such as gasoline and diesel fuel.

The project would replace a portion of an existing pipeline and add additional capacity, which the company said is needed to meet increased demand for refined fuels in the region.

The $160 million project would transport about 38,000 barrels per day.

Cenex says in its application that the company is proposing to reroute the existing pipeline to minimize construction in sensitive areas. The proposed route travels 150 miles in North Dakota, crossing Williams, Mountrail and Ward counties.

The pipeline route crosses the Missouri River in Montana. Water crossings in North Dakota include the Little Muddy, White Earth and Little Knife rivers.

Public hearings are scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday at the Sleep Inn in Minot and at 9 a.m. Tuesday at Tioga City Hall.

Commissioner Brian Kroshus said the Dakota Access protests "really changed the game."

"We're prepared that there might be some voices of opposition," said Kroshus, who joined the commission in the aftermath of the protests.

Some criticized the Public Service Commission for how the agency notified tribes and the public about the Dakota Access hearings. In that case, notice of the hearings was published in the official newspaper of each county that was part of the pipeline route. It was not advertised in Sioux County, where the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's headquarters is located, because the pipeline doesn't cross that county.

Fedorchak has said the North Dakota Indian Affairs commissioner called the Standing Rock chairman's office inviting the tribe to participate. The tribe did not testify at any of the hearings.

Earlier this year, the Public Service Commission adopted a new policy to directly notify every North Dakota tribe about every project under consideration.

"Every tribe on every siting project is getting direct notification," Fedorchak said.

In addition, Fedorchak said she's hearing that more companies are directly seeking input from tribes.

The Laborers District Council of Minnesota and North Dakota has intervened in the case in support of the Cenex Pipeline. The union will be able to ask questions during the hearing and call witnesses.

"We think it's important for the commission to hear from members with decades of experience in the trenches, especially after everything that happened with Dakota Access," said spokesman Kevin Pranis.

Bismarck attorney Derrick Braaten, who represents about a handful of landowners along the proposed route, also petitioned to intervene in the case. The landowners want to make sure their interests are protected as they negotiate easements, with a focus on proper land reclamation, Braaten said.

Compared to Dakota Access, there have been fewer meetings with landowners or opportunities for landowners to get details about the Cenex proposal, Braaten said.

"This one has just been kind of under the radar," he said.

Construction is tentatively scheduled to begin in the fall, but Cenex said in a statement that work won't begin until all permits are secured. The work is estimated to take 18 months.

In addition to increasing capacity, the project is needed to reduce maintenance required to safely operate the existing pipeline, Cenex said in its application.

The entire Cenex Pipeline transports refined fuels from Laurel, Mont., to Fargo.

Commission Chairman Randy Christmann has recused himself from the case because the pipeline is proposed to cross land owned by his wife's family.

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