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Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. — A state judge has ruled that thousands of documents related to security during the construction in North Dakota of the heavily protested Dakota Access Pipeline are public and subject to the state’s open records law.

The Bismarck Tribune reports the Friday ruling by South Central District Judge Cynthia Feland is a victory for The Intercept news organization, which sued in 2020 to get access to the documents for investigative journalism.

North Dakota Newspaper Association attorney Jack McDonald said the ruling also is “a good decision for government transparency

The documents being held by the North Dakota Private Investigation and Security Board relate to Energy Transfer, the Texas-based company that built the pipeline, and TigerSwan, the North Carolina company that Energy Transfer hired to oversee security during construction.

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TigerSwan gave about 16,000 documents to the board during a two-year battle over whether the company operated illegally in the state in 2016 and 2017, when thousands of pipeline protesters gathered in southern North Dakota and law enforcement made hundreds of arrests.

In this Dec. 4, 2016 file photo, protesters march at Oceti Sakowin camp where people have gathered to protest the Dakota Access oil pipeline in Cannon Ball, N.D. It has been called the largest gathering of Native American tribes in a century. Tribal members and others have joined in an ongoing, tense protest against the $3.8 billion Dakota Access oil pipeline, which the Standing Rock Sioux believes threatens sacred sites and a river that provides drinking water for millions of people. The protest is included in the AP top news stories in North Dakota this year. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

The records became entangled in three lawsuits. Energy Transfer and subsidiary Dakota Access LLC sued the board in 2020, seeking the return of what they consider to be “confidential, proprietary, and privileged documents.”

Feland ruled that Energy Transfer is not being deprived of its property because it has copies of the disputed records. She also said the company has not identified any specific provisions under state law exempting the documents from public disclosure.

Energy Transfer attorney Jennifer Recine deferred a request for comment to the company, which did not immediately respond. Company attorneys late Monday asked Feland to put on hold the part of her ruling permitting public disclosure of the records while it appeals to the state Supreme Court.

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