AS I SEE IT
By Neal A. Shipman
Before this legislative session began, Gov. Jack Dalrymple along with several other key North Dakota legislators took a tour of oil-impacted communities in western North Dakota and saw firsthand what impact the development of the oil and gas industry was having on this region of the state. During their tour, they had a chance to listen to representatives from city and county government who outlined the need for state assistance to help with maintaining the roads and highways, as well as the need for financial help to aid communities build up their infrastructure to meet their growing communities.
The financial needs of the oil-impacted areas of western North Dakota, as outlined by these county and city leaders, was staggering. By conservative estimates, Gov. Dalrymple was told that it would take hundreds of millions of dollars in state assistance to keep our roads from crumbling and millions of dollars more to help the cities take care of the onslaught of new people moving into the area to fill all of the jobs that have been created.
To the people of western North Dakota, the need for state assistance was very real. But the question was, “Did the governor and these state leaders understand just how great a problem the counties and cities in ‘oil country’ were facing?”
The answer to that question came last week when two huge bills that have a very direct impact on western North Dakota were passed by the North Dakota Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Dalrymple.
The first was House Bill 1012, which provided the North Dakota Dept. of Transportation (DOT) with a 2011-13 budget of nearly $1.73 billion and included an unprecedented funding commitment for major roadway reconstruction projects and repairs to state, county, city and township roads throughout the state.
In particular interest to those living in ‘oil country,’ the DOT was provided with:
• $228.6 million from the Permanent Oil Tax Trust Fund for state highway projects within the 17 oil and gas producing counties in western North Dakota. The projects will include road overlays to increase load-bearing capacity; the widening of roads, patch and repair work; and complete roadway reconstruction.
• And $142 million from the Permanent Oil Tax Trust Fund for reconstruction and repair projects on city, county and township roads within the state’s oil and gas counties.
The second was HB 1013, which helps communities, like Watford City, by providing $100 million to help offset direct impacts created by the rapidly developing energy industry.
Of the $100 million, $35 million goes to the cities of Williston, Minot and Dickinson, while $65 million will be available to counties, townships, school districts and smaller cities in the oil impacted area of the state for projects such as improving city streets, the construction of municipal sewer lines and water lines to support the development of residential housing projects and funding to enhance police, fire, ambulance or other services needed to support a growing population.
The North Dakota Legislature, in passing these two bills set the stage for cities and counties in the oil country to address the challenge of growth that they are facing as a result of the growth of the state’s oil and gas industry.