josh Swanson

Josh Swanson, an attorney representing several families with mineral rights under Lake Sakakawea, testifies at an Industrial Commission public hearing in Bismarck in June involving the ordinary high water mark of the Missouri River before the construction of Garrison Dam and Lake Sakakawea.

Lawsuits in the Lake Sakakawea case appear to be far from over, despite state legislation and multiple Supreme Court rulings that had appeared to definitively settle the matter of disputed minerals in favor of families whose ancestors reserved them at the time the manmade lake was constructed.

Josh Swanson, an attorney representing several of the families owning disputed minerals around Lake Sakakawea, said he will be filing yet another lawsuit related to the matter this week or next, after Continental Resources refused to credit nearly 200 acres of disputed minerals to one of his clients.

The minerals, owned by Ed Lynch, have been held by that family for decades, Swanson said, and the state’s latest study of it, the Wenck study, shows that the acres all lie outside the historical ordinary high water mark, which was the dividing line for state minerals adopted by the North Dakota legislature in 2017.

“They are still living in 2010 when the Bartlett-West study was done, and refusing to apply the case law from the Supreme Court,” Swanson said.

A call was placed to Continental to ask about the matter. That call has not yet been returned.

Swanson said he asked the Continental employee in charge of the disputed minerals why they were making that decision, and that the individual refused to answer.

“Continental is deliberately thumbing their nose at North Dakota Law and the U.S. Constitution,” Swanson said. “I don’t know how many decisions we need to get from the North Dakota Supreme Court before Continental follows the law.”

Lynch said he had leased 276 acres of minerals to Continental in 2012. Despite that history and the recent Supreme court ruling that found disputed minerals outside the ordinary high water mark do not belong to the state, Continental is only willing to now credit him with 84 of them.

“My ancestors reserved those minerals from the federal government back in 1957,” Lynch said. “I have a warranty deed from the federal government for those acres.”

The dispute has already cost Lynch his home and livelihood, but he said he is not quitting.

“It’s been years fighting this, and it’s been a struggle to make ends meet,” he said. “But it’s the principle of the matter. I have a constitutional right as a property owner. They cannot take that away from me.”

Swanson, meanwhile, said it is disturbing that his clients continue to face a legal gauntlet for essentially the same question, over and over again.

“There is nothing that justifies what they are putting Ed’s family through and these other families through,” Swanson said. “We shouldn’t need to keep filing lawsuits on this. The question has been answered. And yet, here we are.”

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