Jury awards payment to Williams County landowner in easement case

Williston native Nancy Dennert stands next to a 130-foot-high utility pole that is part of a transmission line constructed by Basin Electric on her property.

WILLISTON – A jury settled a dispute over an electrical transmission easement in ordering a $195,000 payment to a Williams County landowner last Friday.

The Northwest District Court jury rendered a verdict following a three-day trial, awarding Nancy and Dana Dennert $195,000 for the 8.61 acres taken as an easement for a Basin Electric Power Cooperative electric transmission line that crossed over their property. The line, consisting of poles standing over 130 feet high, crossed 2,500 feet over the Dennert property located about eight miles north of Williston.

Basin Electric had asked the jury to award its appraiser’s amount of $64,575, which had been paid on Jan. 22, 2016. The payment was made prior to the jury trial so the line could be built in 2016.

State law allows for severance damages that occur when neighboring land is devalued by the presence of the utility. In arguing for their requested appraisal and severance damages, the Dennerts presented information from other appraisers and details of their land sale canceled after the buyer learned of the utility line.

The jury also awarded the Dennerts their attorney fees.

Landowners should be aware that they don’t have to accept a utility’s easement offer if they feel it’s unfair, said Bismarck attorney Lynn Boughey, who represented the Dennerts. Landowners often hesitate to challenge a company’s offer because of attorney fees, not realizing that the state’s eminent domain law requires a company to pay the landowner’s attorney when a reasonable case is brought, he said. This provides protection to landowners so they aren’t forced to take an offer because of lack of resources to hire a lawyer, he said.

Basin Electric was represented by attorneys Paul Forster and Ben Sand of Bismarck. Basin Electric issued a statement that it considers the verdict to be final, as the jury’s decision was about one-tenth of the landowner’s demanded amount.

The matter was heard by a jury of 10, with District Judge Josh Rustad presiding.