Port: Lawmaker fighting carbon pipeline because of 'property rights' once tried to seize neighbor's property

"How could someone who supposedly believes in property rights use an arcane legal doctrine to seize someone else's property without paying for it?"

North Dakota Rep. Jeff Magrum, R-Hazelton, stares down Gov. Doug Burgum as the Republican governor enters the House of Representatives chamber on Nov. 8, 2021.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

MINOT, N.D. — "I believe that if we don’t protect our property rights, we won’t be free anymore.”

So said state Sen. Jeff Magrum , a Republican from District 8 who has, as a part of his myopic feud with Gov. Doug Burgum , filed a raft of bills in Bismarck to undermine efforts to build a carbon pipeline in our state.

Magrum made that statement at a recent committee hearing for his bills.

His neighbors might be surprised to find out he feels that way.

More on that in a moment.


While he's been effective in using the righteous cause of property rights as a cover for his actions, there is good reason to believe Magrum's motivations are more about a petty personal grudge than principle.

For one, his bills seem shaped not as broad protections for property rights but as stumbling blocks for the Midwest Carbon Express , a pipeline Burgum has been an enthusiastic supporter of.

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Building a pipeline is always a fraught exercise, especially when negotiating deals with those who own the property along its route. Magrum, a rank opportunist, is using skepticism among some property owners to prosecute his vendetta.

For another, it doesn't seem Magrum has much use for property rights in his personal life.

One of his gripes about the Midwest Carbon Express is his claim that eminent domain will be used by Summit Carbon solutions, the company building it, to force some property owners to make a deal.

For those of you who don't know, eminent domain is the legal process through which private property, or easements to private property rights, can be obtained for public works. Things such as highways, though it's also used for private projects, like pipelines , when they serve the public good.

You won't be surprised to learn that there's a great deal of conflict over which projects represent enough public good to justify the use of eminent domain.

But back to Magrum.


Would it surprise you to learn that this supposed paragon of property rights once tried to seize his neighbor's property through a legal process that's not at all unlike eminent domain? It's actually worse Unlike the eminent domain process, which requires that the taker compensate the property owner at fair market value, Magrum tried to pull this off without paying the actual property owner a dime.

The case is Gimbel vs. Magrum , and it concerns some property that Magrum decided was his simply because he was using it.

Magrum considered a trail across the northern section of his property to be the boundary with Gimbel's property, according to documentation from the North Dakota Supreme Court. Magrum built a fence along it. Gimbel disagreed, got a survey, got that survey approved and recorded by Emmons County, and then asked Magrum to take down the fence since it was on his property.

Magrum refused, and instead tried to take Gimbel's property under a legal doctrine called "adverse possession," which generally means that a person can take someone else's property if they use it and act like its owner for a certain amount of time.

Sound weird?

Yes, it's weird, and also not an argument you'd expect a self-styled champion of property rights to make in court. How could someone who supposedly believes in property rights use an arcane legal doctrine to seize someone else's property without paying for it?

But Magrum did that, litigating it all the way to the state Supreme Court, which issued a unanimous decision in 2020 stating that Magrum couldn't seize his neighbor's property just because Gimbel had a long-standing practice of letting his neighbors harvest hay from that land.

The Gimbel vs. Magrum decision doesn't change the debate about the Midwest Carbon Express, really. But it does give us some insight into the motivations of a key political figure in that debate. What we can see looks less like a principled stand and more like the farm more grubby politics of personal disdain.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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