An outside law firm will defend the North Dakota Industrial Commission in a lawsuit against the state that challenges a new law related to ownership of oil and gas minerals under Lake Sakakawea.
Daniel Gaustad and Ronald Fischer of Grand Forks have been appointed as special assistant attorneys general to represent the Industrial Commission, which consists of Gov. Doug Burgum, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring.
The lawsuit, from Democratic Rep. Marvin Nelson and others, claims North Dakota owns all of the minerals under Lake Sakakawea and argues that recently enacted legislation is unconstitutional.
The suit also lists the Board of University and School Lands, Burgum and Stenehjem as defendants.
The Land Board has not hired an outside law firm but will continue to be represented by the Attorney General’s Office, Land Commissioner Jodi Smith said Thursday.
Stenehjem and Burgum also serve on the Land Board, along with Secretary of State Al Jaeger, State Treasurer Kelly Schmidt and Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler.
The Land Board recently held two closed-door executive sessions to discuss the lawsuit but did not take action.
The Industrial Commission on Wednesday met with Gaustad in a closed-door meeting. After the meeting reopened, Burgum said the board gave guidance to Gaustad but took no formal action.
When asked Wednesday whether the Attorney General’s Office will represent Burgum in the case, spokesman Mike Nowatzki said that was still being determined.
Stenehjem will be represented by the Attorney General's Office, spokeswoman Liz Brocker said.
Lawmakers last session approved Senate Bill 2134, which requires a survey to review the historical channel of the Missouri River as it existed before the Garrison Dam, which created Lake Sakakawea.
The lawsuit in Cass County District Court seeks to stop that survey and claims the legislation gives away the perpetual ownership of minerals that belong to the state, worth an estimated $1.76 billion with the exact value to be proven at trial.
The state’s answer to the lawsuit is due March 1.