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Two major state farming organizations say the devil’s in the details of a pilot program for pipeline reclamation. While one group favors the program, the other characterizes it as an unnecessary growth of government.

The North Dakota Department of Agriculture will be overseeing the program, which lawmakers passed this session. Department officials expect the last of five contracts to be finalized this week for ombudsmen to investigate complaints from landowners and help negotiate solutions.

Ken Junkert, administrative services director for the agriculture department, said five complaints have been submitted so far and the first couple are already under investigation.

“There’s been significant interest in what we’re doing,” Junkert said. “We’re taking a two-year approach at resolving issues and seeing how successful we are.”

Senate Bill 2271 allowed for the creation of a pilot pipeline reclamation program for the 2015-17 biennium with $400,000 in funding. The agriculture commissioner would be able to contract with ombudsmen who would provide technical assistance and for following up on pipeline issues for landowners.

Junkert said the five ombudsmen will be located in Williston, Minot, Velva, Beulah and Bismarck. Junkert would pass out assignments after checking with the Department of Mineral Resource and the Public Service Commission regarding jurisdiction and when the pipeline went into service. The project only includes pipelines installed after Jan. 1, 2006, and those not under PSC jurisdiction.

Too much duplication

North Dakota Farm Bureau public policy director Pete Hanebutt called the program a duplication of services, which is why the group opposed it during the session.

“There are already reclamation things in the Century Code. We have several agencies vying for the same thing," said Hanebutt, who questioned giving the agriculture department a program if the PSC already deals with reclamation.

He said he wasn’t surprised by its passage given the strong economy in recent years.

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“As long as there’s money out there to pay for these things, we’ll continue to grow government,” said Hanebutt, pointing out that pilot programs rarely go away once they’re passed.

The Farm Bureau will respond to the issue if it’s one that members call for action on for the 2017 session, he said.

Overdue step

North Dakota Farmers Union member advocacy director Kayla Pulvermacher said the group favors the program and will work with members to spread the word.

“It’s a small step in a process that is overdue,” Pulvermacher said. “The North Dakota Legislature tends to start out small.”

Pulvermacher said the issue of who is the go-to person for reclamation issues has been of widespread concern among members. She said landowners tend to contact the landman who worked with them about getting easements for infrastructure not knowing who to contact after the project is complete.

“It’s like when you purchase a car. When you have a problem, you normally don’t go to the salesman,” Pulvermacher said.

The group would support the program being continued if it produces results, she said.

More information on the program and an online form to file a complaint can be found at www.nd.gov/ndda.

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(Reach Nick Smith at 701-250-8255 or 701-223-8482 or at nick.smith@bismarcktribune.com.)

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