If the State Industrial Commission’s list of “extraordinary places” becomes an official policy, it won’t be because of support from one of the most influential agricultural organizations in the state.

The North Dakota Farm Bureau is “absolutely opposed” to the proposal introduced by Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, District 7 Director Wes Klein said Thursday night to meeting of NDFB members and interested landowners at the Ramada Grand Dakota Hotel in Dickinson. The proposal would require a more detailed application process for energy companies to develop near a list of 18 specific sites.

“This will be the biggest land grab there ever was,” Klein said. “This absolutely has to go away because it infringes on a basic right that, if given up, we give up more than just our private property rights. We then begin to have a state government, much less a federal government, telling us what we can and cannot do.”

Though Farm Bureau spokesman Pete Hanebutt said the meeting, which was attended by about three dozen people, was open to anyone, all vocal participants at the informational gathering came out strongly against the Industrial Commission proposal.

Sen. Bill Bowman, R-Bowman, one of the most outspoken critics of the proposal in recent weeks, took it a step further.

“This is an insult to landowners,” Bowman said. “The biggest part of the area they are looking at is in my district. I can say this: If they ram this down our throats, we’ll shut down everything in western North Dakota. I’ll get a group of landowners together and shut down hunting on a huge area of private land. You can call me a radical, but that might be the last alternative we have.”

Opponents of the potential policy argue that it would be an overreach of government control over private property similar to an eminent domain power play. Backers of the proposal say it’s a needed measure to protect certain North Dakota landmarks and wild places from an onslaught of development of lands above the Bakken oil shale in the western part of the state.

The sites include areas near Theodore Roosevelt National Park and along the Little Missouri River, along with Tracy Mountain, Black Butte, White Butte and Sentinel Butte, among others, some of which lie within private land boundaries.

South Heart landowner and mineral rights holder Art Brown called the proposal “sad,” though he also wondered aloud what oil companies invested in western North Dakota were doing to help the anti-extraordinary places cause.

“None of us really had any idea this was going on until recently,” Brown said. “This isn’t a good thing and I sure hope that we’ll be able to stop it. I don’t understand why they would want to do this.”

The proposal, which has been tweaked since its unveiling, will next be discussed by the Industrial Commission at its next meeting, tentatively scheduled for March 4 in Bismarck. The commission is accepting public comments on the subject until 4 p.m. Tuesday. Instructions on how to send comments can be found at nd.gov/ndic/drill.htm.

Following the meeting, Klein said he wouldn’t be surprised if pushback on any potential approval of the list eventually led to the battle being taken to the North Dakota Supreme Court.

“This is probably the biggest issue that I’ve seen in my life,” Bowman said. “I found out about all this the day before the last Industrial Commission meeting a couple of weeks ago. Since then, I’ve spent about four hours on the phone with the governor, the ag commissioner and the attorney general. Doug Goehring (North Dakota’s agriculture commissioner and member of the three-person Industrial Commission) said he is with me 100 percent, but I think the key to this is what the governor decides.”

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