The site of the Davis Refinery, southwest of Belfield, was posted with a sign as shown on July 31. 

The North Dakota Public Service Commission voted 2-1 Wednesday to ask an administrative law judge to review a complaint related to the Davis Refinery under construction near Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Commissioners Julie Fedorchak and Brian Kroshus supported a motion to ask the Office of Administrative Hearings to review the legal filings and make a recommendation to the commission.

The Dakota Resource Council and the Environmental Law & Policy Center allege that Meridian Energy is attempting to circumvent state law by not applying for a permit with the Public Service Commission. The groups are seeking to halt construction of the refinery near Belfield until the project receives a more thorough review.

Meridian Energy is seeking to have the complaint dismissed, arguing that the company plans to construct a refinery that can process 49,500 barrels of oil per day, which is 500 barrels below the threshold that requires the commission’s review.

Fedorchak said an administrative law judge could review the legal arguments that have been filed in the case and provide a recommendation and legal analysis for commissioners.

“It is ultimately our decision,” Fedorchak said. “It would not be a substitute for our decision.”

Commission Chairman Randy Christmann opposed the motion. He said typically the commission has worked with administrative law judges for more procedural matters.

“I was ready to schedule a work session on this and discuss it and reach a conclusion on our own,” Christmann said.

The Office of Administrative Hearings is an executive branch agency that provides independent administrative law judges.

Fedorchak said she thinks getting a recommendation from the administrative law judge could expedite the commission’s ability to reach a conclusion. Fedorchak said the judge could decide to hold a hearing.

Timothy Dawson, director of the Office of Administrative Hearings, said Wednesday afternoon he had not yet received the request from the Public Service Commission and could not comment on how the matter will proceed.

The complaint before the Public Service Commission is one of four legal challenges or appeals facing the refinery, which would be about 3 miles from Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Preliminary dirt work on the project began in July.

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