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Group launches concerns over truck traffic for proposed North Dakota refinery

An earth mover sits on the site of the Davis Refinery southwest of Belfield on July 19. Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune

BISMARCK—Members of an environmental group challenging the Davis Refinery argue the developer's plans have changed significantly since Billings County approved the project, resulting in an increase in truck traffic they fear will make the area unsafe.

In a recent court filing, the Dakota Resource Council argues Meridian Energy should not begin construction until the Billings County Commission issues a conditional use permit based on the company's latest plans.

Meridian Energy told commissioners in a 2016 permit application that truck traffic to the facility near Belfield would be minimized in favor of rail and pipeline transportation.

However, a rail loading system was later eliminated from the refinery proposal, causing the estimated amount of truck traffic to double, according to Meridian's applications to the North Dakota Department of Health.

An estimate of truck traffic was not included in the 100-page permit application to Billings County.

In an October 2016 application to the Department of Health, Meridian estimated the refinery would have 81 truck loading trips every day.

But in a revised April 2017 application to the Department of Health, which notes that a rail system was eliminated, Meridian estimated the Davis Refinery would have about 170 trucks per day.

"It's just such a staggering number," said Bismarck attorney JJ England, who represents the Dakota Resource Council. "In an area that's rural, it's going to change people's lives."

Members of the Dakota Resource Council who live within 3 miles of the refinery site wrote in court affidavits they are concerned about truck traffic making it dangerous to drive.

England argues in a motion for summary judgment that the conditional use permit from Billings County should be considered void and the company should not be allowed to construct the facility until obtaining a new permit from the county.

Meridian had not filed a response to the motion as of Friday. In a previous court filing, Meridian argued the permit from the county is valid and the lawsuit should be dismissed.

In January, Meridian CEO William Prentice declined to provide an estimate of truck traffic, referring to the 2016 application to Billings County. Prentice said Meridian did not expect to receive crude oil by truck and would be "pushing as much product shipment to pipeline and rail as soon as possible."

It's unclear what rail transportation system Prentice was referencing and the company did not respond to a question seeking clarification.

Meridian at one time discussed transporting products from the nearby Andeavor rail-loading facility but that is no longer planned, Department of Health officials said at a hearing in May.

In its application to the county, Meridian said it plans to pave and improve roads surrounding the refinery and collaborate with local officials on traffic studies.

A hearing on the motion is scheduled for Sept. 11.

A separate lawsuit challenges Meridian's permit with the North Dakota Department of Health. In addition, a complaint is pending with the North Dakota Public Service Commission, and an appeal is pending related to a State Water Commission permit.

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