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ND Health Council violated meeting rules, ruling says

BISMARCK - The North Dakota Health Council violated the open meetings law when it failed to give timely notice of a meeting where members voted on radioactive oilfield waste rules, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said.

BISMARCK – The North Dakota Health Council violated the open meetings law when it failed to give timely notice of a meeting where members voted on radioactive oilfield waste rules, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said.

In an opinion issued Tuesday, Stenehjem wrote that members of the Health Council determined last April that it would hold a meeting on Aug. 11, 2015, but didn’t notify the public until 13 days before the meeting.

“The law requires the notice of a meeting to be provided to the public at the same time as the members of the governing body,” Stenehjem wrote.

Because the Health Council knew of the meeting for a significantly longer time than the public did, the council violated the open meetings law, Stenehjem concluded. At the time, members did not set or discuss possible agenda topics, Stenehjem wrote.

The 11-member council is the governing and advisory body of the state Department of Health.

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The meeting involved a vote on allowing North Dakota to accept waste from the oilfield with radioactivity levels of up to 50 picocuries per gram, 10 times the previous limit that forced companies to ship the waste out of state. Members voted unanimously to raise the limit.

Don Morrison, executive director of the Dakota Resource Council, and Darrell Dorgan, who leads the North Dakota Energy Industry Waste Coalition, raised questions about whether the Health Council violated the law during its process to adopt the new rules.

Stenehjem ruled that the remedy for the violation is for the Health Council to provide minutes of the Aug. 11 meeting to Morrison, Dorgan and anyone else who requests them.

Stenehjem also concluded that the Health Council did provide proper notice of the Aug. 11 meeting to everyone requesting notice and through other channels, including a news release posted Aug. 6 on the health department website.

Dorgan said he is disappointed with the opinion and was hoping for another vote to be taken.

“Basically it said that we were right, on at least half the issue,” Dorgan said. “But even though you’re right and the law’s on your side, it doesn’t make a difference in North Dakota on oil issues.”

Genny Dienstmann, vice chairwoman of the Health Council, said the violation will likely be on the group’s next meeting agenda.

“I’m sure we’ll do whatever it takes to make sure we follow procedures in the future,” Dienstmann said.

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Colleen Reinke, a spokeswoman for the health department, said the minutes of the meeting will be sent to Morrison and Dorgan on Wednesday, and the minutes are already posted on the department’s website.

The health department is reviewing an application from IHD Solids Management LLC for permits to accept the radioactive waste at an oilfield landfill south of Williston, the first to apply since the new rules were approved. Health officials will schedule a public hearing after an initial review of the applications.

Related Topics: WAYNE STENEHJEM
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