By Timothy Mclaughlin
(Reuters) - Over a dozen landowners in North Dakota have filed a lawsuit against a company involved in the development of the Dakota Access Pipeline, charging they were misled into accepting unfair compensation for allowing the pipeline to cross their land, according to court documents.
Dakota Access LLC used false statements to get some landowners in Morton County, North Dakota, to accept less money than others for the necessary easements, according to the lawsuit, filed Jan. 6 in U.S. District Court of North Dakota in Bismarck.
The landowners are seeking $4 million in damages from Dakota Access, court documents said.
"We feel the allegations are without merit," Vicki Granado, a spokeswoman for Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, parent company of Dakota Access, said by email.
The company secured easements from 800 landowners in North Dakota for the project, she said.
The $3.8 billion pipeline has faced months of protests from Native Americans and environmental activists who say it threatens water resources and sacred lands.
"Dakota Access's statements were false, misleading, and unfair statements designed to induce the Morton County landowners to sign the easement agreements at a lower price than other Morton County landowners," the complaint said.
An attorney representing the landowners was not immediately available for comment.
Most landowners named in the suit were offered $216 per rod, a unit of measurement used in land surveying that is equal to 16.5 feet(5 m), in August 2014 for land easements.
Dakota Access, the court documents said, told the landowners that if they did not agree to the amount offered they faced losing money, having their land taken by eminent domain or that the pipeline would be rerouted. The landowners agreed to the payments.
However, other landowners in Morton County, through which 71 miles of the pipeline runs, were paid has much as $2,000 per rod, the suit said.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Army began the process of launching an environmental study of the pipeline's path under Lake Oahe, a reservoir formed by a dam on the Missouri River.
A December denial of the easement under the lake was a major victory for those opposed to the project, and members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe called on protesters to disband.
However, some have remained and clashed again with law enforcement this week, and dozens have been arrested.
(Reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago; Editing by Leslie Adler)