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Steve Adair and Naomi Thorson, Published April 16 2014

Letter: Accountability foremost in conservation measure

This is an exciting time to live in North Dakota. Our economy is growing, jobs are plentiful and personal incomes are increasing. This current prosperity gives North Dakotans the opportunity to invest a small portion of the state’s existing revenue to address the challenges that come with rapid growth. We have the ability today to maintain our clean drinking water, provide flood protection for our communities, preserve our unique natural areas, and provide more places for our families to get outside and stay healthy. All this, without raising a dime of new taxes.

The Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks amendment is a reasonable response to maintaining the great quality of life we have in North Dakota. It dedicates a small percentage of the existing oil extraction tax to a granting fund governed by three of our state’s top elected officials, the governor, attorney general and ag commissioner. It would bring the state’s total investment in our clean water, natural flood control, and outdoor recreation and education to 2 percent of the state’s budget. This amount is an appropriate investment in the health of our land and water on which we all depend, without impacting other important needs in the state such as education and infrastructure.

The measure has strong accountability, including an advisory board that would be the most diverse in the state, an administrative cost limit of 3 percent and a regular audit by the state auditor. The measure would be part of the state constitution, so politicians couldn’t raid the funds for other purposes. The uses of the fund are clearly spelled out to protect clean drinking water, improve flood control, enhance fish and wildlife habitat, provide for parks and recreational areas for more opportunities to hunt, fish, hike and camp, and to get our children outdoors to learn about healthy and active lifestyles. Grants can be issued to state agencies, cities and counties, nonprofit organizations and tribes.

The creativity of North Dakota residents is already apparent in submitted project ideas well exceeding the expected funding amount. Ideas include new state parks, since North Dakota has not developed one in 30 years; grass buffers for wetlands, lakes and rivers to protect our clean drinking water from spills and contaminated runoff; retention areas to hold floodwater away from our communities; and options for farmers and ranchers to improve their operations while providing fish and wildlife habitat.

This is a proven and successful model. North Dakota would join 33 other states, including Minnesota, that have passed similar measures to maintain vibrant and healthy communities.

We invite you to join the more than 50 organizations and hundreds of residents representing conservation, outdoor recreation, tourism, agricultural producers, health care and small businesses that have endorsed this important and timely measure.

Please sign the petition and support the right of the people of North Dakota to protect their drinking water, land and way of life.

Adair, Bismarck, and Thorson, Dickinson, are members of the amendment sponsoring committee.