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Published April 11, 2012, 06:37 PM

ND Supreme Court Affirms Land Reclamation Deal

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's Supreme Court ruled that a state agency could encourage the transfer of land that was once dug up for coal mining by labeling it as recreational property.

By: Dale Wetzel, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's Supreme Court ruled that a state agency could encourage the transfer of land that was once dug up for coal mining by labeling it as recreational property.

Its decision went against the wishes of an environmental group that argued the reclaimed land should be used for farming.

The Supreme Court's decision will help Falkirk Mining Co. transfer about 730 acres of property to North Dakota's Department of Transportation.

The department wanted the property to replace roadside ditch land that has been left unmowed to allow wildlife to take cover in the long grass. Adding the new land will allow the Transportation Department to begin mowing the unkempt ditches.

Falkirk operates a west-central North Dakota mine near Underwood that supplies lignite to Great River Energy's nearby Coal Creek electric power station.

Court documents say the agreement called for the state Game and Fish Department to manage the 730 acres as a wildlife area. The court fight focused on 86 acres of land within the area.

The Dakota Resource Council, a Dickinson-based environmental group, argued that state law requires that all of the property be converted back to farmland, and that the Public Service Commission should have classified the 86 acres as agricultural land or wildlife habitat instead of as recreational land.

"One of the questions we got was ... 'Why are you making such a big deal over 86 acres?' And the point was, if you can do this on 86 acres, you can do it on 8,600 acres," Derrick Braaten, the council's lawyer, said Wednesday.

By labeling it as agricultural or wildlife habitat, the commission would have provided greater assurance that the reclaimed land would remain as fertile farmland, Dakota Resource Council filings say.

The property was classified as recreational land only to smooth the way for the land transfer, Braaten said.

He said the court's decision could encourage future classification of reclaimed coal mine land for recreation to avoid stricter environmental monitoring of the property.

Tony Clark, the chairman of the Public Service Commission, said the land transfer was good for the state agencies involved and for long-term land management.

"There have to be good reasons for changing post-mine land use," said Clark, adding that the Supreme Court decision "gives the commission some discretion."


Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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