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General News    H4'ed 8/13/15

Enbridge Wins Round One in Lawsuit Against James Botsford

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North Dakota District Court Grand Forks

"Let's just end this little damages dance for the day so we can move on and file an appeal of the substantive issues as well as this sort of gagging of our ability to use Enbridge's own offers in our defense."

James Botsford was beaten but unbowed as he stood in the lobby of the Grand Forks County District Courthouse, his wife Krista at his side. North Dakota Pipeline Company LLC (NDPL) had sued the couple for the right to an easement over his farmland located twenty miles from where he stood. Botsford's land is a lynchpin in the proposed $2.6 billion Sandpiper Pipeline, a project that will carry Bakken crude oil from western North Dakota to refineries in Superior, Wisconsin. In pretrial legal maneuvering, NDPL avoided a scheduled jury trial that would have determined the amount of compensation for the eminent domain takings of the Botsford property.

In an email quoted in the Grand Forks Herald, Enbridge spokeswoman Lorraine Little declared NDPL the victor.

"Today, James and Krista Botsford and North Dakota Pipeline Co. LLC reached an agreement for a 50-foot easement to construct, operate and maintain the Sandpiper Pipeline on the Botsfords' property," Enbridge spokeswoman Lorraine Little wrote in an email. "The Botsfords continue to own and have use of their property."

In another email, Botsford says he disputes this characterization. "We did not reach an agreement on anything except a temporary use of a damages amount simply to allow us to move on and file an appeal."

At issue Tuesday was $38,062. May 2014 court records show that an attorney for NDPL offered the amount for the easement. Botsford did not want the money. No amount of money would make him abandon his stand that a Canadian oil company had no right to force him to give up his land for an energy project that went against his value system, as described in this essay.

We told Enbridge and their attorneys that we drive cars and that we've enjoyed the boons that oil has provided... but that it's time for change. As a society we're scraping the bottom of the barrel with the desperation of "extreme extraction" just to prolong the status quo and the rusty technological infrastructure the companies own and are familiar with. We're doing this in spite of the toxins and earthquakes of fracking, the flaring off of natural gas, and in spite of the incontrovertible science-based evidence of the effect it's all having on the climate and the natural world upon which all living things rely and are a part.

So the company reduced the amount to $2,000 and sued the Botsfords in North Dakota District Court to force a settlement. The Botsfords were entitled to a jury trial, but it never happened. In pre-trial legal maneuvering, the oil company managed to convince the judge that a previous offer of $38,062 was part of negotiations prior to litigation, and therefore inadmissible in court. The only dollar amount the judge would allow was $12,158.96-- a figure obtained from an Ag economist from North Dakota State University, who was hired by the Botsfords.

Botsford says, "That amount just reflects the potential damages to the land by putting in a pipeline, but does not include the value to Enbridge to acquire the rights, nor the costs of cleaning up a spill or leak."

Wetland on Botsford Farm
Copyrighted Image? DMCA

Botsford and his team agreed to the settlement number as a way to move the process forward. The money will remain with the court while the appeal process continues. If Botsford took the money to help with his legal expenses, he would not be able to appeal.

"For whatever reason, this was terribly disappointing to get a second blow from the judge. Her summary judgment that our principled positions were not worth the courts' time to hear took away our ability to speak," Botsford said after the hearing.

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Georgianne Nienaber is an investigative environmental and political writer. She lives in rural northern Minnesota and South Florida. Her articles have appeared in The Society of Professional Journalists' Online Quill Magazine, the Huffington (more...)

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