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Tribes seek to challenge Corps' Dakota Access pipeline study

This Feb. 13, 2017, file photo shows a site where the final phase of the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Missouri River took place with boring equipment routing the pipeline underground and across Lake Oahe to connect with the existing pipeline in Emmons County in Cannon Ball, N.D.

BISMARCK, N.D. — The developer of the Dakota Access oil pipeline has planted tens of thousands of trees and taken other steps to settle allegations that it violated North Dakota rules during construction, state regulators have concluded.

The September 2017 agreement between Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners and North Dakota's Public Service Commission settled allegations that ETP removed too many trees and that it improperly handled a pipeline route change after discovering Native American artifacts. The artifacts were not disturbed.

The company denied intentionally doing anything wrong but could have faced fines of up to $200,000. Instead, it was required to plant a certain number of new trees and develop an industry handbook and conduct training on properly handling pipeline route adjustments.

The company last spring filed a nearly 80-page industry handbook it developed, and in October it filed documents detailing efforts by a contractor to plant 141,000 trees and shrubs over two years. The PSC in late November asked for more proof that ETP had complied with all conditions of the settlement.

The company filed numerous documents later that month and in December, including a letter in which attorney Lawrence Bender said he was "disappointed" that compliance had been questioned.

Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak said the three-member group discussed the matter at a Wednesday meeting and concluded the company was in compliance.

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ETP missed a year-end deadline to plant about 11,000 of a required 20,000 trees through soil conservation districts in counties along the pipeline route. A provision in the settlement agreement allows the company to extend the work into this year if there are problems with the tree supply "or other market conditions."

The company cited equipment and staffing issues, difficulties finding willing landowners and poor planting conditions. The PSC found that acceptable.

"We will continue monitoring the tree replacement until they have met the 20,000 threshold," Fedorchak said. "The rest of the settlement items are complete."

The company handling the work for ETP said it plans to plant nearly 17,000 more trees in 2019, exceeding the required threshold.

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