Patrick Springer, Published June 03 2010
Dorgan wants special session to tackle oil patch-related issues
“I think the state is making a big mistake by not having a session of the Legislature, a special session, to address the significant infrastructure issues that no city and no county can address themselves,” Dorgan told The Forum’s editorial board.
Dorgan said the booming oil and gas development in western North Dakota is unprecedented in the state’s history, and comes with significant economic benefits, including new jobs and opportunities.
“But there are also challenges,” he said. “This is going to take a lot of thinking and a lot of long-term investment,” with a plan to help local governments build housing, roads, schools and other public infrastructure to accommodate the growth.
In March, business leaders in Williston, a hub of oil development in northwestern North Dakota, urged Gov. John Hoeven to call a special session of the Legislature to make up to $100 million in bonding available for infrastructure.
A special legislative session can only be called by the governor.
“I understand the urgency of people from Williston and elsewhere saying, look, we’re up here, we’re having all these problems, we can’t handle this alone, we need a special session,” Dorgan said. “I think they’re absolutely right,” Dorgan said, adding that it is a state issue, and therefore “not my business.”
In response to the plea by Williston business leaders for a special session last March, Hoeven said that he didn’t think a special session was needed, but he went to Williston with state agency heads, including commerce, transportation and the Bank of North Dakota, to put together a package.
Hoeven, a Republican, is running for Dorgan’s Senate seat. Dorgan announced in January that he will not seek another term.
Shane Goettle, North Dakota’s commerce commissioner, is Hoeven’s point man in putting together an interim package until the next session, which begins in January.
The most critical need is a state cost-share in helping Williston develop new housing subdivisions. Between $3 million and $10 million in bonds will be available for this construction season, a “bridge” solution until the next session, Goettle said.
“They’re very happy with the plan at this point,” he said of Williston officials. The same program could be tapped by other communities, provided they have a specific plan for development. So far, only Williston has such a plan, Goettle said.
The potential of the Bakken Formation and associated Three Forks Formation has surprised even experts. Last year federal officials estimated 2.1 billion barrels of oil in the Bakken in North Dakota are recoverable. This spring, a study determined the Three Forks Formation has equal promise.
Dorgan has said North Dakota’s oil potential is the greatest among the lower 48 states.
Don Canton, a Hoeven spokesman, said state impact aid to North Dakota’s 16 oil-producing counties has more than tripled since 2003-05, to almost
$165 million this biennium, following action from the last session.
Also, the state is spending $60 million in improvements, including new lanes for passing and turnoffs, on U.S. Highway 85, a main corridor used by trucks servicing oil wells and rigs.
Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., who also met Wednesday with The Forum editorial board, said the $60 million came from federal stimulus funds. The congressional delegation is working to get more funding to improve Highway 85. Local residents would prefer a divided, four-lane highway – a project with a price tag of $372 million for the 186 mile highway.
“That’s not going to happen tomorrow,” Conrad said.
Dorgan quiet on plans
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., is still keeping mum about his plans following his retirement from the Senate.
Dorgan announced in January that he will not seek a third term, and will conclude a career in public office of more than 40 years, including 30 years in Congress.
“I expect to be involved in things that represent the public good,” Dorgan said Wednesday. “I expect to teach a class or two,” adding that he once taught an economics course at Bismarck College years ago. Dorgan has also said he plans to write more books.
Beyond that, he’s saying little. “I’ll keep you posted,” he told The Forum editorial board.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522