End of lawsuit?

Negotiations could end more than 15 years in court over NAWS

Jill Schramm/MDN Public Works Director Dan Jonasson addresses the Minot liaison committee Thursday.

The Northwest Area Water Supply project’s long-standing legal troubles may be close to resolution.

The province of Manitoba, whose lawsuit has caused the project to drag out in environmental studies, may be willing to drop any further action in exchange for the right to be involved in the NAWS design, Minot Public Works Director Dan Jonasson told the city-county-school-parks liaison committee Thursday.

Jonasson said Manitoba’s offer is a good thing.

“We wouldn’t be opposed to them being involved in the design process, but they will be, by no means, involved in the final say,” he said.

Last August, a federal judge lifted an injunction against NAWS that had been in place as Manitoba fought the project due to its concern that invasive species could move from the Missouri River Basin to the Hudson Bay Basin. The NAWS project would bring Missouri River water to Minot and other communities in the region.

In November, Manitoba appealed the latest judge’s ruling, challenging whether a supplemental environmental study by the bureau adequately considered all the potential factors that could negatively affect treatment of water prior to crossing into the Hudson Bay basin and seeking more input into the matter.

Tim Freije, NAWS director for the State Water Commission, said the judge put the appeal on hold on Jan. 31, giving Manitoba and the appellees, North Dakota and the U.S. Department of the Interior, 90 days to negotiate a settlement. He said the negotiation centers on Manitoba’s desire to have a greater role in NAWS and getting both sides to agree on what that role should be.

“We are very close. It’s a matter of finalizing the details,” Freije said.

Manitoba’s lawsuit against NAWS has been ongoing since October 2002.

Missouri also sued over depletion of Missouri River water supply and is appealing, but Jonasson said attorneys believe Missouri does not have a strong case on its own. The appeal is tied to the Manitoba case so also is on hold. Should Missouri continue to move ahead, briefs are due in federal court May 14.

Meanwhile, construction begins this spring on NAWS-related improvements to the Minot Water Treatment Plant, and design of a biota treatment plant near Max is going forward this year.