Letter: The State must sit down at the rail bridge table | Letters to the Editor

Two months ago, the Attorney General and I exchanged letters regarding North Dakota ownership of the historic 1883 railroad bridge between Bismarck and Mandan. I asked if the Equal Footing doctrine, whereby each state entering the union controls its waterways, means that we citizens of North Dakota own the river bed from which the bridge rises. Mr. Wrigley responded quickly, but unsatisfactorily. He declined to issue an opinion.

Two days later, however, he filed in federal court claiming that because of the equal opportunity doctrine, North Dakota owns the Missouri Riverbed through the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation. . The following week he told Joel Heitkamp’s radio audience that we own the river bed, but not the bridge. To be clear, the bridge is in our riverbed, and the railroad only has a right of way to use the bridge.

Because it has historical significance and is state property, our State Historical Society of North Dakota has an obligation to protect the bridge. I wrote again, asking if the Attorney General needed a second request to reconsider his dissent. There was no response to this letter.

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Railroads have always been very important to North Dakota and very influential in our politics. If BNSF needs a new modern bridge, we should help facilitate its construction. But they should not be allowed to destroy our historic bridge. It can easily and economically be converted and connected to our excellent trail networks. The non-profit Friends Group, CVB and park districts on both sides of the river will help.

This inevitably goes to court. The State of North Dakota needs to come to the table. If it’s not the attorney general, maybe the governor will defend our interests. Otherwise, it will become a problem for the Legislative Assembly in January.

Senator Tracy Potter, Bismarck

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