State ready to expand ag mediation to cover federal land, oil and gas

Farm Forum

PIERRE — Proposed changes in state rules would significantly expand the roles of South Dakota’s mediation program for agriculture borrowers and creditors.

The program would be allowed to cover disputes involving federal land and oil and gas properties.

Legislators adopted changes in state law in the 2013 session on votes of 70-0 in the House of Representatives and 33-0 in the Senate.

The state Department of Agriculture is bringing the rules to implement the changes 20 months later.

The expansion resulted from a legislative study committee’s work on oil and gas issues in 2012.

Sen. Ryan Maher, who served on the study, said on Nov. 10 he didn’t know why the department didn’t develop the rules sooner. He is chairman of the Legislature’s Executive Board.

The original legislation from the study committee added mediation between landowners and oil and gas developers.

Rep. Betty Olson, R-Prairie City, offered the amendment in the 2013 session to expand the mediation program to also add federal land disputes. She said on Nov. 10 she doesn’t know why the proposed rules weren’t developed sooner.

State Agriculture Secretary Lucas Lentsch said on Nov. 10 that no one has asked for federal-lands or oil and gas mediation services yet.

He was appointed to his post by Gov. Dennis Daugaard on April 2, 2013. That was after the conclusion of the 2013 legislative session.

He has made a variety of changes in the department’s management personnel since then.

“Since these are wholly new programs and not like our existing debtor/creditor mediation service, careful thought and consideration was needed to ensure successful implementation,” Lentsch said in an email on Nov. 10.

“Also of some consequence, our previous mediation director left our agency for a new position, resulting in reassignment to a new director of mediation,” he continued.

“(The department) has worked for the past year to develop a process and procedure that would make the best use of staff, funding and resources to provide effective mediation assistance to interested parties.

“This effort has included dialogue with stakeholders for input on rule development, so that we could get the new rules right,” he said.

Follow @pierremercer on Twitter.