Attorney general stays out of dispute over bridge ownership

April 29, 2022 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The North Dakota Attorney General’s Office has again refused to get involved in a dispute over the ownership of the historic Bismarck-Mandan Rail Bridge which BNSF Railway is planning to raze.

The nonprofit group, Friends of the Rail Bridge, believes the state owns the 139-year-old structure, which would require the State Historical Society to determine its historical significance, a decision that could stop demolition.

State Sen. Tracy Potter, of Bismarck, asked Attorney General Drew Wrigley for an opinion. But Wrigley declined, the Bismarck Tribune reported.

“There are ... some situations which are unsuited for an attorney general opinion, including when the question presented requires a factual determination,” Wrigley wrote in a letter to Potter. “Such matters are best reserved for another forum where the factual assessments can be weighed and rendered.”

Potter said he’s disappointed in Wrigley’s refusal to issue an opinion.

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“Make no mistake, the state’s unwillingness to be involved as the owner of the riverbed will cause serious future injury to the people of North Dakota,” he said.

BNSF Railway, which plans to build a new bridge, has called the claim of state ownership “absurd” and questioned the timing of its proponents. The Coast Guard is expected to soon release a final environmental impact statement which is one of the final steps in the permit process.

The nonprofit group asked for an attorney general’s opinion earlier this year, but Assistant Attorney General Carl Karpinski determined one was not warranted “due to the fact that no state agency or other state entity is involved in the ownership dispute.”