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Groups ask for attorney general’s opinion regarding open meeting law violation

Two groups concerned with the process in which the North Dakota Health Council used during an open meeting law on Aug. 11 in Bismarck, have requested an opinion from Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem on Friday afternoon regarding the matter.

Representatives from Dakota Resource Council and the North Dakota Energy Industry Waste Coalition are seeking the attorney general’s opinion after the council scheduled the Aug. 11 meeting on April 22, but did not notify the public until Aug. 6.

DRC Executive Director Don Morrison said according to law, the public is required to be notified of meetings immediately after they have been scheduled.

“That is an obvious violation of the notice for public meetings,” Morrison said. “North Dakota prides itself for having open meetings but this certainly wasn’t.”

However, Director of Enforcement at the North Dakota Department of Health Dave Glatt said the council had no intention of keeping the Aug. 11 meeting classified, and believes the meeting was conducted as it relates to state law.

During the Aug. 11 meeting, the council made a unanimous decision to raise acceptable levels of toxic radioactive material for the state’s landfills from 5 picocuries to 50 picocuries, a ten-fold increase.

Morrison said the decision was pushed through quickly, without ample opportunity for public comment.

He said the change would help oil companies dispose of more waste and cut down on their costs.

“The oil industry is always leading the charge and is part of the process,” Morrison said. “Let's make sure the voice of folks who have been living and working in North Dakota for generations are also part of that process in addition to the oil industry.”  

Morrison said important voices were stifled because community members weren’t properly informed, a decision he believes was a conscious effort on the part of the health department in conjunction with oil industry leaders.

But Glatt said the current amount of radioactive waste is set lower than many other states and is based off of outdated science.

“So we took a look at the standard and asked ‘is it appropriate?’” Glatt said.

The department sought outside opinion using the Argonne National Laboratory -- an Illinois-based science and engineering research center -- which conducted tests and informed the state that the radioactive disposal limits could safely be increased.

“They (oil companies) came to us and said they wanted this changed, but they wanted it a lot higher (than 50 picocuries),” Glatt said. “We said ‘follow the science.’ And that’s what we did.”

In addition to raising the amount of radioactive waste, he said the new plan would provide better record keeping regarding where the refuse is dumped.

“We are requiring that waste be tracked from cradle to grave,” Glatt said. “Whoever generates this has to notify us of that so we can identify where it’s being generated, how it’s being handled, and where it’s finally being disposed of.”

He said the new plan would allow for a more comprehensive disposal tracking system.  

And while that may be, Morrison said he still objects to certain parts of the proposed plan.

He said a decision regarding the North Dakota Health Council’s potential violation of the open meetings law should be decided upon “very quickly” by the attorney general, although there is no known date at this time.