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County gets tough on water pipeline companies

Posted 3/22/16 (Tue)

By Amy Robinson
Farmer Staff Writer

Companies that have installed underground water pipelines in McKenzie County without obtaining the necessary approval are being put on notice. If those pipelines haven’t received a Conditional Use Permit (CUP), the company could be faced with a lawsuit or be required to remove the pipeline.
According to Jim Talbert, McKenzie County Planning and Zoning director, there are literally hundreds of miles of fresh water pipelines in the ground that have not followed the county’s requirements and done what they’ve been required to do.
“One company came before the Planning and Zoning Committee on Monday, March 14, stating that they were building a 19-mile pipeline and had never requested a CUP, even after they had been made aware well before they started their pipeline,” stated Talbert. “And at this point, they have already completed six miles of their pipeline project.”
According to Talbert, after further investigation into the matter, the county found two companies that had already put well over 100 miles of pipeline into the ground. Talbert specifically wanted to know how to proceed when these pipeline companies are identified as not having the required permits.
“I wanted to know in moving forward, should we be issuing stop-work orders or should companies be allowed a grace period,” stated Talbert. “During the commissioners’ meeting, several of the water pipeline companies were requesting that the county allow them to continue working while the CUP was in process. There was over an hour’s worth of discussion, with some feeling that if any company was found in violation, those companies should be shut down immediately, while others felt some time should be given to them to work through the process.”
Regardless of what the county commissioners were feeling, one way or the other, the county requirements have been in the books since 2013, says Talbert. The water pipeline companies have known what was required in order to lay down pipeline in the county. Talbert says that many of the companies felt there was more profit to be made by proceeding without CUPs, and now the time has come to address a problem that has exploded.
“Planning and Zoning is not intended to be impunitive,” says Talbert. “It’s meant to bring uses into compliance. So ultimately what was decided from the meeting is that if water pipeline companies come forward and provide a completed application no later than Tuesday, March 22, staff will review and make recommendations to be heard at the regularly-scheduled Planning and Zoning Hearing.”
This short time frame only guarantees a hearing in front of the commission on April 19, at which time the county will either approve or deny the CUP. According to Talbert, this is a one-time situation.
“After this time frame, any companies found to be in violation of not having a CUP for their water pipelines will be given a stop-work order and will face injunctions and lawsuits from the county, to bring them into compliance or face removal,” states Talbert. “Water is a critical issue in the county, between industrial water and agricultural water. And we’re heading into what’s expected to be a drought year. If people can’t comply, we don’t wish them to be working in our county. Water is a limited resource.”
Talbert says he doesn’t find this process to be unreasonable because companies should have obtained a CUP before they started building their pipelines.
“My desire is to bring the companies in,” said Talbert. “I’ve talked to companies who have built in excess of several hundreds of miles without required approvals. It’s time to bring illegal uses into compliance.”