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Status of Grand Forks County pipeline case unclear after Enbridge decision

GRAND FORKS, N.D.--An attorney for Grand Forks County property owners who resisted construction of a oil pipeline on their land welcomed Enbridge Energy Partners' decision to suspend its Sandpiper Pipeline project.

James Botsford talks to people while exiting the Grand Forks County Courthouse in Grand Forks, ND on Tuesday, August 11, 2015. (Grand Forks Herald/ Joshua Komer)
James Botsford talks to people while exiting the Grand Forks County Courthouse in Grand Forks, ND on Tuesday, August 11, 2015. (Grand Forks Herald/ Joshua Komer)

GRAND FORKS, N.D.-An attorney for Grand Forks County property owners who resisted construction of a oil pipeline on their land welcomed Enbridge Energy Partners' decision to suspend its Sandpiper Pipeline project.

The company announced Thursday it had shelved the project, which would carry crude oil from western North Dakota to Superior, Wis., citing market conditions and regulatory delays in Minnesota. It will withdraw applications pending with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.

Enbridge said the Sandpiper is likely outside its "current five-year planning horizon."

How the decision will affect the case involving James and Krista Botsford, who live in Wisconsin but own land in Grand Forks County that Enbridge sought to use for the pipeline, was unclear Friday.

The couple was sued by North Dakota Pipeline Co., a joint venture between Enbridge and a subsidiary of Marathon Petroleum Corp., in 2014. The company sought an easement and right of way for the rural property west of Emerado. Botsford said Enbridge's actions represented an "abuse" of eminent domain, which is the government's ability to use private property for public purposes with just compensation.

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A Grand Forks District Court judge sided with the pipeline company last year, but the Botsfords appealed to the state Supreme Court. Arguments in that case are scheduled for Sept. 21.

Derrick Braaten, an attorney representing the Botsfords, said Friday he had talked to an Enbridge attorney "about whether it makes sense to go ahead with a hearing and the possibility of them just dismissing the case without getting an easement." He noted there are competing claims about attorney's fees.

"I think our position is going to be they need to pay our attorney's fees and dismiss the case without an easement," Braaten said. He added the Enbridge attorney hadn't had detailed discussions with the company yet, so they agreed to revisit the case early next week.

Scott Jensen, an attorney representing the pipeline company in the Botsford case, referred questions to an Enbridge spokeswoman.

In a statement issued by company spokeswoman Katie Haarsager, Enbridge said it will maintain the easements it has secured with landowners along the Sandpiper route.

"However, at this time we are in the process of evaluating all open or pending matters related to the Sandpiper Pipeline project, including our matter involving Mr. and Mrs. Botsford," the statement added.

Despite the amount of unknowns involved with the Botsford case, Braaten said their side was happy with Enbridge's decision to suspend its pursuit of the pipeline. He said the decision is "some of the strongest evidence there is" that they were right in arguing that the pipeline wasn't needed and didn't represent a public use.

"We're very happy about it," Braaten said.

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