081517-nws-PSC-settlement

Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak answers questions after fellow commissioners Brian Kroshus, left, and Randy Christmann joined her in proposing a $15,000 settlement offer to Dakota Access Pipeline during a special meeting at the state Capitol on Monday in Bismarck. 

MIKE MCCLEARY, TRIBUNE

The North Dakota Public Service Commission is asking Dakota Access Pipeline to pay $15,000 to resolve a dispute over whether the pipeline developer broke state law after discovering Native American artifacts during construction last year.

The three-member board voted unanimously Monday to extend a settlement offer to the developer of the $3.8 billion pipeline that would dismiss claims against Dakota Access related to failing to notify regulators about the cultural artifacts.

Commissioner Julie Fedorchak said the proposed agreement aims to resolve a matter that’s been pending since October.

“We’re not interested in being hung up in procedural delays indefinitely,” Fedorchak said.

The issues date back to Oct. 17, when Dakota Access discovered four stone cairns and other artifacts in the pipeline route in Morton County. Dakota Access notified the State Historic Preservation Office and rerouted the project to protect the sites.

The company did not notify the Public Service Commission, which learned about the discovery eight days later from a third-party inspector. The permit authorizing construction of Dakota Access requires the company to get clearance from the commission to proceed with a reroute.

The PSC proposes a $15,000 “contribution” to the State Historic Preservation Office or “a mutually agreeable entity.”

The maximum fine the agency can issue is $10,000 per day for each violation, or up to $200,000. Last November, PSC staff proposed $15,000 as the minimum fine, but commissioners have the ability to issue one that's higher or lower.

Dakota Access has 10 days to consider the settlement offer. The agreement states that payment “is not to be construed as an admission of liability on any party, and that all parties deny liability and intend merely to avoid litigation.”

Commissioners said they think the settlement offer is a fair compromise.

“I think it’s time to move on and get this wrapped up,” said commissioner Brian Kroshus.

If the company does not agree to the settlement, the matter will continue through a formal administrative process.

Dakota Access attorney Lawrence Bender, who attended the meeting, said he has sent the settlement offer to company representatives for their review.

The settlement does not affect a separate investigation related to whether Dakota Access removed too many trees while constructing the pipeline.

That issue is scheduled for an all-day investigatory hearing on Thursday. However, commissioners are considering a request from Dakota Access to postpone the hearing.

(Reach Amy Dalrymple at 701-250-8267 or Amy.Dalrymple@bismarcktribune.com)

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