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Published February 21 2012

ND lays out broad game plan for Oil Patch

BISMARCK – Bypasses to reduce traffic in Williston and New Town will be finished this summer, and a new state coordinator will be hired to monitor issues in the oil- and gas-producing counties, the governor announced Tuesday.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple reported on progress being made in western North Dakota’s Oil Patch during news conferences in Bismarck and Williston. He covered state efforts to help with transportation, housing, safety and planning issues, which local officials were eager to hear.

“We’ve had Rick Santorum out here, we’ve had Ron Paul out here, but we’re actually even more excited to have you out here,” Tom Rolfstad, executive director of Williston Economic Development, told Dalrymple.

The governor’s update follows a 14-city tour last month when state officials met with nearly 600 western North Dakota residents to hear concerns about the challenges of rapid oil and gas development.

Truck traffic, the need for more law enforcement and the housing shortage were common concerns, Dalrymple said.

State officials compiled a report summarizing the feedback and outlining the state’s efforts to help.

Transportation

Since July, the state has provided about $307 million for transportation projects in oil country, the report said. About $605 million remains to be invested for the 2011-13 biennium.

A $10 million temporary bypass is expected to be finished in Williston by mid-summer. The $6 million first phase of a truck reliever route in New Town is also expected to be complete this summer.

Truck reliever routes in Watford City, Dickinson and Alexander are in the planning stages. Killdeer has expressed interest, but a formal request has not been submitted, Dalrymple said.

There won’t be a mandate that semis use the bypasses, but the trucking industry has said they will, said Francis Ziegler of the Department of Transportation. Using the bypasses will be quicker for the trucks, which now need to slow down and stop within the cities, he said.

The DOT is also reviewing signage, traffic lights and speed limits in oil country, Dalrymple said. The Highway Patrol will increase personnel and time allocated to load limit enforcement and work on a proposal for the Legislature to consider allowing counties to share in the fines collected on county roads, Dalrymple said.

Boots on the ground

Dalrymple said the state will hire a new state energy impact coordinator to report to him and the Cabinet about progress and needs in the Oil Patch.

Issues developing at the local level need to be monitored on an ongoing basis, Dalrymple said. The position will be based in the Williston area and will be funded with existing budget resources, he said.

Rick Leuthold, chairman of civil engineering firm Sanderson Stewart, which does work in the oil-producing region, was glad to hear the governor’s office will have a staff member stationed in the Oil Patch.

During the last session, the Legislature refused to fund what they dubbed an “energy czar” requested by the governor. Dalrymple said the impact coordinator position is “completely different” and will work on impact issues, not energy development at the Commerce Department.

House Majority Leader Al Carlson of Fargo, who was in Bismarck on Tuesday, said half the battle is communication. The coordinator can help spread the word about what resources the state has to help the oil counties,

he said.

Planning

The state will also work with the oil industry to better forecast future oil expansion so local-level planning can address growth needs, he said.

The North Dakota Industrial Commission Oil and Gas Division will monitor the drilling permit process to identify ways infrastructure expansion and oil development can be better coordinated, the report said.

Dalrymple said state officials will study the oil and gas tax formula to see how money could be more effectively distributed to areas facing the biggest impacts.

There are several ongoing studies related to roads, housing, planning education and workforce development.

Williams County Commissioner Dan Kalil said he’s excited to hear that the governor understands what residents in oil country are going through.

Housing and safety

To help with the housing shortage, the Bank of North Dakota will bring additional resources into the Flex PACE program to provide low-interest loans to property developers who construct multifamily housing in oil-producing counties, the report said.

The state Housing Finance Agency has leveraged $3.8 million for the construction of 286 affordable-housing units in western North Dakota. The residential housing projects are valued at $42 million and are in various stages of construction.

The report can be found at www.commerce.nd.gov/

resources/idmeetings/.


Amy Dalrymple, Oil Patch reporter

for Forum Communications Co., contributed to this report

Finneman is a multimedia reporter

for Forum Communications Co.