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Judge won't stop North Dakota oil pipeline construction

BISMARCK -- TransCanada can start constructing the Keystone crude oil pipeline through eastern North Dakota, a judge ruled Thursday. South Central District Judge Gail Hagerty denied a request by the Dakota Resource Council and six landowners who ...

BISMARCK -- TransCanada can start constructing the Keystone crude oil pipeline through eastern North Dakota, a judge ruled Thursday.

South Central District Judge Gail Hagerty denied a request by the Dakota Resource Council and six landowners who asked her to stay the Public Service Commission's Feb. 21 order approving the Keystone route while they appeal the legality of the permit.

DRC and the landowners requested the stay as a first step in their appeal of the route permit. They said they would suffer irreparable injury if construction begins while the appeal is pending.

The 30-inch-diameter line's 218-mile North Dakota route will stretch from near Walhalla to near Cogswell. By late 2009, it will carry Canadian tar sands oil from Alberta to refineries in Illinois.

As part of their request for a stay, DRC and the landowners had to convince the judge that they are likely to prevail on the appeal and Hagerty said that wasn't the case.

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"Keystone is likely to prevail in (DRC's) appeal of the commission's decision," the judge wrote, citing the PSC's 125 findings of fact and eight conclusions of law.

The judge wrote that DRC "misunderstands North Dakota statutory law. No (law) requires the commission to accept only the safest available route. Instead (the law) mandates only that the sites and routes of transmission facilities be chosen to minimize adverse human and environmental impact."

An attorney for DRC and the landowners said the judge's decision is not a death blow to their appeal.

Jana Linderman, an attorney for Plains Justice, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, disputed Hagerty's order. She said the commission could not know that the chosen route has minimized the pipeline's negative effects if the route was not been compared to other possible routes.

"We're not asking the commission to search out the safest possible route. There were some alternatives for the commission to consider...the other routes weren't analyzed," Linderman said.

One of the landowners in the appeal, Ramona Klein of Valley City, said she's "saddened if safety for our land and water is not demanded by law."

TransCanada spokesman Jeff Rauh said the company is "pleased with the ruling and we appreciate the detailed review that went into it. The ruling highlights that the water and aquifer issues were extensively reviewed and appropriately considered in selecting Keystone's route."

Contractors will begin work on the North Dakota route next week, Rauh said, with clearing of trees and shrubs. Trench digging and pipe laying won't begin for several more weeks, he said.

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Two companies will build the line in North Dakota. Henkel & McCoy Inc., a Pennsylvania company, will begin work at the Canadian border and Michels Corp. of Brownsville, Wis., will begin near Luverne, north of Valley City. Both teams will work southward.

Rauh said 18 parcels owned by 13 land owners remain in eminent domain proceedings or negotiations. Some of the 13 are land owners involved in the appeal.

The Public Service Commission has an informal hearing at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday on minor route changes TransCanada is requesting. Rauh said the route changes should not be controversial because a lot of them are to accommodate landowners' requests and concerns.

Janell Cole works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Dickinson Press.

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