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Dakota Access Pipeline gets OK for Watford City terminal

WATFORD CITY, N.D. —A pipeline company got zoning for an oil tank terminal near here Tuesday, but it suffered a sharp public spanking in the process.

Dakota Access Pipeline went to the McKenzie County Commission for authority to locate a massive crude oil terminal on the south edge of the Watford City limits.

The request was narrowly approved and moves forward the company's plans to build a 1,100-mile pipeline from the Bakken into Illinois to supply Midwest and Gulf coast refiners with the North Dakota product by the end of next year.

The Watford City terminal is one of six that will be built in the Oil Patch to collect oil from smaller gathering lines or tanker trucks and is the fourth terminal to gain local approval.

The McKenzie County hearing wasn't exactly a bloodbath for Dakota Access, but locals and a few of the commissioners didn't mince any words, either.

Father and son duo, Rick and Howdy Lawler, told the commission the company's negotiating style for pipeline easements left a lot to be desired.

Howdy Lawler said negotiations should be a two-way street. Instead, it's "take it or leave it," he told the commission.

"They don't give a rip about anything but their wallets," said Rick Lawler, adding he's had the same offer for a 4-inch line as Dakota Access is offering for a 30-inch line.

Commissioner Kathy Skarda said she's had plenty of phone calls from landowners about the company's negotiating style, in which eminent domain and condemnation were put on the table right away.

"Why do we want to reward bad behavior and the lack of respect given to them by your company? That's very concerning to me. And why, only after you've come to our meetings, has that improved?" Skarda said.

Company spokesman Chuck Frey apologized and said some land agents "that were not representing our company in the way we want it represented" had been removed or replaced.

Skarda also questioned the company's safety protocol in the event of a fire at the facility, where tanks will hold as many as 150,000 barrels of oil at a time.

Frey said a floating roof on the tanks will prevent dangerous vapor buildup inside the tanks and foam suppression will be located on site.

"We've learned our lesson, and we've tried to respond to concerns from the first (zoning) meeting," Frey said.

Commissioner Vawnita Best, who abstained from voting because the company made the land deal for the terminal with close family members, said she feared, by approving the terminal, the commission would be "unleashing the hounds" on owners of the 64 miles of pipeline routed through the county.

She asked Frey if he could commit to good-faith negotiations in at least 90 percent of its deals on the route and not resort to a quick take action in court.

Frey declined to make that commitment but said the company will continue to negotiate as necessary. The company claimed it has 41 percent of the easements it needs in McKenzie County compared to 60 percent along the entire proposed four-state route.

Commissioner Doug Nordby made a motion to approve the zoning request, after wondering why a company the size of Dakota Access failed to take the time to talk to more people about the project.

"I hope the state does its due diligence," he said.

Afterward, some heated talked continued outside in the hallway with Rick Lawler and Howdy Lawler saying they were disappointed in the county's decision.

Rick Lawler said his objections were also on behalf of his friends and neighbors.

"They're going through this, and it's more than they can stand," he said.

The project did get a letter of support from Watford City.

The pipeline also needs a route permit from the Public Service Commission and other state and federal agencies and has a final PSC hearing scheduled June 26 in Williston. The PSC decision is critical and will take months to be made.

Dakota Access is aiming to start construction late this fall and get the 450,000-barrel pipeline on line by the end of 2016.

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