Construction begins on Davis Refinery site

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Meridian Energy Group announced Tuesday it is starting site construction for the Davis Refinery near Theodore Roosevelt National Park, a project that still faces legal challenges.

A Meridian spokesman said civil construction and site work began Monday at the site near Belfield.

Initial construction activities will include installing erosion control devices, stormwater pond development and other site grading.

SEH DesignBuild, a subsidiary of engineering firm SEH that has an office in Bismarck, has been hired to lead civil construction with subcontractors from the local area, Meridian said in a statement.

“It is great to be finally beginning site work for Davis and to be working with these fine local companies as we get the project moving,” Meridian CEO William Prentice said in a statement.

The refinery received a permit to construct from the North Dakota Department of Health Air Quality Division about a month ago. Three conservation groups have filed a lawsuit to appeal the health department’s permit.

Terry O’Clair, director of the Air Quality Division, has said the appeal does not prevent the company from proceeding with construction, but the company would be moving ahead at its own risk.

Meridian management said in an email Tuesday the company is confident in the thorough 18-month review process by the health department, calling the permit “bomb-proof.”

“The risk associated with permits for a project like this is substantial, which is why we spent so much money and time getting it right,” Meridian management said in an email to the Bismarck Tribune.

Billings County Commission Chairman Jim Arthaud said the county is requiring construction bonds for the project to protect the county in the event the land needs to be reclaimed.

“If the project goes down, there’s money in place for us to put the property back into the use it was prior,” Arthaud said.

Meridian has provided a $260,000 financial assurance to the county for the site construction, said Stacey Swanson, Billings County tax and zoning director. A total of $3.25 million in construction bonds will be required for the full project, with the bonding set up in phases, Swanson said.

Meridian said it will provide additional bonding early next year before it begins local road improvements.

Meanwhile, the National Parks Conservation Association, the Dakota Resource Council and the Environmental Law & Policy Center are challenging the health department permit in a lawsuit filed last week. The groups argue that Meridian underestimates what the refinery’s emissions will be and claim the health department’s monitoring and testing requirements are inadequate to ensure compliance with the permit.

In addition, a complaint filed with the North Dakota Public Service Commission seeks to halt construction of the refinery. A separate lawsuit challenges the zoning permit from Billings County and an administrative appeal is pending related to a permit from the State Water Commission.

“I think it would be wise for them to finish up their lawsuits before they disturb the ground,” said Laura Grzanic, a Billings County resident and member of the Dakota Resource Council, which is involved with all four challenges to the refinery.

Prentice has said the project will be the cleanest refinery on the planet and it was thoroughly studied by state health officials and the local county commission.

Construction on the refinery is expected to start next year with operations scheduled to begin in 2020. The project will employ about 500 during construction with up to 200 permanent jobs when it begins operating, according to the company.

Local subcontractors that will be working on the project include Martin Construction of Dickinson, which will be the primary site developers for civil construction, and ABC Fencing of Belfield, which will install erosion control devices and perimeter fencing.