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Rough ground, uneven surfaces, vegetation not returning to its normal state and noxious weed control are thorns in the side of landowners who have permitted companies access in laying pipelines through their property.

As many residents fumed earlier this year on a lack of response in addressing their concerns, the Legislature began operating a pipeline reclamation program this summer meant to create a clear line of communication between landowners and companies.

Five contract ombudsmen, overseen by the North Dakota Department of Agriculture, have been investigating complaints from landowners and helping in negotiating solutions.

Ken Junkert, administrative services director for the agriculture department, said 23 complaints have been filed so far.

“We’re getting really good feedback. They’re recognizing the value of the program,” Junkert said. “I think there’s value here. The industry, they see it as a good approach to the problem.”

Junkert said extending the program will be up to the governor when he crafts his proposed 2017-19 budget.

“It’ll definitely be on the table. We’re going to let the program results speak for itself,” Junkert said.

Legislation creating the program included $400,000 for the 2015-17 biennium. The program only applies to pipelines installed after Jan. 1, 2006, and those not under Public Service Commission jurisdiction.

As of Oct. 31, $31,621 had been spent since the program’s launch, which consists of hourly payments to ombudsmen as well as promotional costs.

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

The North Dakota Farm Bureau earlier this year spoke against the program, calling it duplicative. Officials with the group chose not to comment for this story.

North Dakota Farmers Union member advocacy director Kayla Pulvermacher said the group supports the program but it needs time to produce results.

“We’re still in support because there has to be something there for landowners. So far, it seems to be that the companies have been willing to come to the table. Folks are always skeptical about new programs," said Pulvermacher, adding that the agriculture department needs to continue educating people about it while farm organizations need to coordinate with members on what’s working and see if any legislative changes are needed.

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

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