BISMARCK, North Dakota — The Williston Herald, Williston, Sept. 20, 2014
State shouldn't control local spending
There's only so much money in the world, and the same goes for what is coming out of the ground in the Bakken region of western North Dakota.
That's common knowledge, and anyone not living under a rock during the past few years realizes Williston's financial needs are great, qualifying that as basic knowledge to the area.
On Wednesday, we visited with Gov. Jack Dalrymple and discussed the financial future of Williston in the upcoming biennium. We know the governor understands the need, too, but that only goes so far.
If the governor and the state understand, it's time to show western North Dakota what that understanding means.
As expected, the governor shed little light on his budget plans. There were no answers to a new oil and gas tax distribution formula, and no solid number to expect for a Housing Incentive Fund request to the Legislature.
What disturbed us is how the governor and the state is going about vetting the needs the western North Dakota's oil patch.
Rather than finding the needs and releasing the funds, it seems the state will continue the trend of allocating the money to predetermined projects. This is not the way to solve Williston's rapid growth development.
Sending more than $100 million for Project A and another $150 million for Project B is great, don't get us wrong, but the city and county should receive the $250 million, and allocate it on their own to the projects they see as the most pressing, rather than the projects the state sees as its best investments.
For a state that preaches local control as its political gospel, why is the state so adamant on controlling local entities on where the money spent?
If the city has a chance to delay a project while it digs itself out of $140 million in debt, or spends funding for a future bypass on expanding its water treatment plant, it should have free reign on the money to do so.
Our local officials are the ones that live this rapid growth, and are the ones that have to tiptoe around big spending in their budgets, crossing their fingers the state ultimately decides to fund it or another large project.
Trying to total up the needs of western North Dakota — more than $1 billion in Williston alone — and trying to make it fit into the current or proposed formula sounds like an impending disaster for the Bakken region's funding.
Gov. Dalrymple and the Legislature need to take a serious look at their method of changing the formula and providing the needed funding. If the funding is going to happen, give control to the local entities.
Don't try to fit the needs into a formula, because the old adage of a square peg and round hole fits perfectly in this scenario.
Instead, change the formula and write the check to the Williston City Commission, no matter what the funding turns out to be.
Not only does the state's formula need to change, but so does its thinking as to how to fund western North Dakota to best meet its needs.
No matter how the state eventually cuts it, there's only so much money to hand out to Williston and western North Dakota. Let's make sure it's done in a way Williston can get the most out its piece of the pie.
That's not only common knowledge, but common sense.
The Bismarck Tribune, Bismarck, Sept. 22, 2014
Living with a new railroad traffic reality
This refrain is beginning to sound old, but life in North Dakota has changed. Specifically, life has changed when it comes to trains.
Saturday's Autumnfest parade was in doubt for a while after it was announced the parade had to be canceled because railroad officials could not accommodate the long parade in their busy train schedule. Days later, it was announced the parade was back on and the official parade route had been altered to stop just short of the railroad tracks.
The whole kerfuffle shouldn't be a surprise.
Typically, railroads own the land on which their tracks run. And typically, railways have been able to accommodate parades crossing their tracks in a show of good community relations.
In Bismarck, railroad officials have been able to accommodate the spring Band Night parade and the Powwow Parade of Champions, but this year were not able to accommodate the long Autumnfest parade.
Even five years ago, there were not nearly so many trains running as in our current congested railway situation. Bakken oil shipments and bumper crops of corn and wheat in the past few years have led to increased numbers of trains and corresponding backlogs.
Increasing Bakken oil production without established pipeline infrastructure to move the oil has opened a lucrative market for railways. At the same time, some say increased oil shipments have caused a backlog that has left grain piled up in elevators awaiting transportation. Rail has long been a major source for moving goods in our country and driving commerce.
Amy McBeth, spokeswoman for BNSF Railway, estimated that an average of 19 to 23 trains roll through Bismarck each day. Spread over a 24-hour period, that can mean one train per hour. According to McBeth, stopping train traffic for a few hours during a parade does more than pause a few trains.
"Railroad traffic is a network," McBeth said. "What happens in one location impacts the fluidity of other areas."
When fielding community requests, railroads have a number of considerations.
"At BNSF, safety is our No. 1 priority," McBeth said.
She later added, "We also have to look at our service. Behind safety, service is our second priority."
In an interview with reporter Karee Magee, Bismarck city administrator Bill Wocken said he just couldn't "in good conscience let (the Autumnfest parade) go ahead." That's not without reason.
In November 2012, a parade honoring U.S. armed forces veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan took place in Midland, Texas. A parade float carrying veterans was struck by a train, killing four veterans and injuring 16 people.
After an investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board announced that among other contributing factors, the city of Midland had failed to notify the railroad of the parade in advance.
We no longer live in the sleepy days of the occasional train rumbling by. The railroad is booming along with other North Dakota industries in a time of robust business opportunity.
No one — not the city administration, not the railroad — wants to see a community disappointed with the cancellation of a parade, but we have a new reality when it comes to train traffic, and safety must always, always come first.
Daily News, Wahpeton, Sept. 22, 2014
Why is the NDSCS rumor being spread?
Is North Dakota State College of Science moving their Wahpeton campus to Fargo?
As crazy as that question sounds, this message is being asked around our community. The truth is NO - NDSCS is not moving their campus to Fargo.
The fact that this is being asked raises some questions. Why are people spreading this rumor? NDSCS is working to expand the Skills and Technology Center in Fargo by building a 210,000-square-foot facility on 15-20 acres at a cost of $65 million. NDSCS has been operating in the Fargo market for the past 17-18 years at the request of the State Board of Higher Education.
An analysis of workforce needs for the region shows how the Fargo facility reaches 1,500 students, with the average student being part-time, 28 years old and a first-generation college student. In other words, these are not the typical student we see on the NDSCS campus in Wahpeton and they are not the kind who will drive to Wahpeton to take classes. These students have families and jobs in the Fargo/Moorhead area. The Fargo expansion project will make NDSCS accessible to more students than it ever has before, but not at the cost of the Wahpeton campus.
Here are the facts: Horton Hall was recently renovated for $5.7 million, Bizek Hall was expanded and renovated for $10.5 million and currently Old Main is undergoing a multimillion dollar renovation as well. Why would a college be renovating and expanding programs on a campus they are planning to leave? The simple answer is they are not going anywhere and there are initiatives in place to retain and add students to the Wahpeton campus.
The Wahpeton campus has been a cornerstone in our community for more than a hundred years. The Twin Town skyline features the towering buildings and as it does now, NDSCS will continue to educate our youth, in Wahpeton.