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Grand Forks County landowner: ‘We won’ Sandpiper Pipeline dispute

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GRAND FORKS — A Grand Forks County landowner declared victory Tuesday in his legal battle with a company seeking to build an oil pipeline across his property.

James and Krista Botsford, who live in Wisconsin but own land west of Emerado, were sued by the North Dakota Pipeline Co. in 2014 after the couple rejected the company’s offers for an easement for the Sandpiper Pipeline. A North Dakota district judge sided with the company and granted an easement last year.

But a stipulation for dismissal, signed Tuesday by attorneys on both sides of the dispute and provided to the Grand Forks Herald by James Botsford, requires the pipeline company to release the easement and pay the Botsfords and their legal counsel $82,581. The pipeline company is a joint venture between Enbridge Energy Partners and an indirect subsidiary of Marathon Petroleum Corp.

“Today Enbridge abandoned their efforts to take our land,” Botsford wrote in an email, adding the pipeline company “threw in the towel” a week prior to oral arguments before the North Dakota Supreme Court. “The case is over and we won.”

Enbridge announced earlier this month it was suspending its pursuit of the Sandpiper Pipeline, which was to run from western North Dakota to Superior, Wis. The company cited regulatory delays in Minnesota and market conditions.

In a statement released Tuesday, Enbridge said the resolution in the Botsford case aligns with its decision to defer the Sandpiper line until market conditions “support the need for additional pipeline infrastructure.”

“Today, Enbridge began legal proceedings to release the easement obtained across Mr. and Mrs. James and Krista Botsford’s property in the district court,” the statement added. “As part of those proceedings, Enbridge will pay the Botsfords’ associated legal fees.”

Enbridge said it had successfully negotiated easements with 95 percent of the private landowners along the approved route in North Dakota. The company will retain those easements, according to the statement.

“As part of any project, the company’s goal is to make every reasonable attempt to work with landowners to secure necessary land rights,” Enbridge said.

In a phone interview, Botsford said Tuesday that he felt “vindicated” by the outcome of his dispute with a massive energy company.

“We hope that it is encouraging to others who are thinking about standing up on a principled basis against a giant corporation or government or combination thereof that just feels too huge to fight against,” he said.

The Botsfords had resisted the pipeline’s construction through their North Dakota property, which Botsford said is primarily farmland, citing fossil fuel’s effect on the climate.

"I'm not a zealot. I drive cars," Botsford said last year. "But when it comes and stares at you right in the face and they come and knock on your door and say, 'We want to pay you to be complicit in the further introduction of carbon into the atmosphere through taking of this oil,' at that point I felt an ethical obligation to say no. And my wife felt the same way."

“We hope that it is encouraging to others who are thinking about standing up on a principled basis against a giant ... that just feels too huge to fight against.”

James Botsford, landowner

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