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Davis Refinery discussion tabled by Billings County Commission

MEDORA -- The Billings County Commission -- and specifically the topic of rezoning more than 700 acres of land for the proposed Davis Refinery project -- drew some quiet protest Tuesday morning at county's courthouse.

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Stewart Dawson and Lily Stewart came to the Billings County Commission meeting Tuesday in Medora with signs to protest the placement of the proposed Davis Refinery. *(Press Photo by Andrew Haffner)

MEDORA -- The Billings County Commission -- and specifically the topic of rezoning more than 700 acres of land for the proposed Davis Refinery project -- drew some quiet protest Tuesday morning at county’s courthouse.

The Meridian Energy Group Inc. refinery rezoning was discussed only shortly before being tabled for future discussion to allow for greater development of plans to meet the conditions attached to the rezoning application.

“I do not believe the county commissioners can make the best decision for the county based on the information we currently have,” Commissioner Jim Arthaud stated in an email. “I believe the information that I feel I need to see, could and should be provided to the county timely.”

The proposed refinery would be only three miles from the edge of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It could cost up to $900 million to build and would be able to process 55,000 barrels of Bakken crude oil daily into different distillates, including gasoline, diesel fuel and kerosene.

Arthaud, though not in physical attendance at the Tuesday meeting, recommended tabling the application and provided additional comments to the commission through the same email. In those comments, Arthaud pointed to specific informational items that must be addressed, such as plans for reconfigured roads and section lines to comply with county setbacks, additional documentation on amount, source and availability of water, ideas for sewer service and stormwater and a more refined emergency plan.

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Daniel Hedrington, a representative of the engineering firm Short Elliott Hendrickson -- the company working through the refinery planning and permitting process with California-based Meridian Energy -- said the tabling was not a “huge setback” to the facility but still “changes the dynamic” of the project.

“We’re evaluating how soon we could start earthwork,” Hedrington said. “All this basically does is provide information to the county first, so they can review data that would have been developed anyway, which is understandable. This is a large project and has a big impact on the count, so we understand they want to evaluate the information.”

Hedrington said SEH has been working to address the points identified by Arthaud -- the CEO and founder of Belfield-based MBI Energy Services, one of the state’s largest oilfield service companies -- and will hopefully be providing the relevant data over the following month, with hopes of bringing the issue back to the commission’s next meeting on June 7.

Some in attendance made a visible show of disapproval for the project.

Stewart Dawson and Lily Stewart, both of Beach, came to the meeting bearing signs to protest the refinery.

Dawson, who held a sign that read “Keep off the Grasslands” said the proposed location for the Davis Refinery is “well within view” of Buck Hill , the highest point in Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the site where he said his grandparents’ ashes are spread.

Beyond his personal reason for protest, Dawson said he was concerned about the wider impact of the possible refinery on the national park.

“This is potentially one of the biggest risks we’ve had to a national park in a very long time and there’s no reason for us to stand for it,” he said.

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Fryburg resident Steve Klym was also at the meeting but was less concerned about the refinery’s impact on the grasslands and more interested in its potential to provide jobs and county tax dollars.

Klym said he owns a roustabout service, as well as a seed and erosion control business, and lives three or four miles from the proposed site. He hopes to see the permitting process completed.

“I’m not scared of it,” Klym said of the refinery. “ … I don’t have a problem raising my family there.”

While he wanted to see the refinery get up and running, Klym added he believed it was good the commission was taking the time to examine the various aspects of the project to “cover all your bases” rather than simply push it through the process.

Related Topics: MEDORA
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