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TJ Jerke, Forum News Service, Published January 25 2013

ND resolution would urge Congress to help state with corps issues

BISMARCK – Some state lawmakers and business owners, fed up with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, want to take land-right issues to Congress.

Rep. Vicky Steiner, R-Dickinson, told the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Friday that residents along Lake Sakakawea are frustrated with the corps, which has a “multitude of regulations” that make it difficult to develop needed amenities such as docks and irrigation lines around the lake.

Steiner introduced House Concurrent Resolution 3010 that would send a copy of the resolution, if it is passed, to members of the state’s congressional delegation asking them to hold at least six public hearings designated by Gov. Jack Dalrymple to negotiate for areas of the lake to go back to North Dakota.

The land would be usable shoreline and dock access that is not currently needed for flood control.

North Dakota U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer said he would welcome the resolution.

“State resolutions at the expressed and will of the state are very appropriate, I like it,” Cramer said. “To a great degree, it provides a political muscle for those that represent states at the federal level.”

Gary Bren and Gary Praus, owners of Blue Water Ridge Development, a property development site along Lake Sakakawea, testified Friday morning. They have 40 cabins and 29 sites for recreational vehicles that attract families and elderly couples.

They said they have asked the corps multiple times for a 40- by 225-foot strip of corps-owned land that is not being used, to build boat docks and a path that would give guests easy access to the lake and a boat.

Bren and Praus told the committee the property is assessed at more than $10,000 in property taxes alone and is a viable resource for tourism and economic development.

“We need access, docks and irrigation pumps to help grow North Dakota’s economy and keep people in the state,” they said.

Bren said the corps and state Game and Fish Department have both visited the site. The corps continues to say no, telling Bren and Praus the area is not properly zoned and is used only for wildlife purposes.

Game and Fish said it would be willing to look into the issue, although the issue is out of its jurisdiction.

“We’d like to see the corps work with us on this whole project,” Praus said.

Todd Lindquist, operations manager of the corps’ Garrison Dam, which created Lake Sakakawea, said he had not read the resolution. The corps developed a master plan five years ago and any changes would require federal action, he said.

“We would respond based on whatever action is taken federally,” Lindquist said. “We continue to work access issues with local entities. If they can’t get what they are requesting, we have to go through a policy to change existing policy.”

Policies dictate the corps would have to assess the area to ensure it is clear of cultural resources and not being used by endangered species, among other things, Lindquist said.

Rep. Mike Brandenburg, R-Edgeley, said he has seen little progress in negotiations with the corps over the past 10 years as he lobbied the corps to allow individuals or the state to buy back grazing land that the corps controls.

He has proposed House Bill 1338, which would return to state control excess land owned by the corps around Lake Sakakawea that is 1,854 feet above sea level and land around Lake Oahe that is 1,617 feet above sea level.

Brandenburg said he plans to amend his bill to give the land to the state Land Department, which would sell it back to the original owners. Eleven other lawmakers have endorsed his bill.