Members of the North Dakota Industrial Commission will be visiting a series of culturally important and environmentally sensitive sites in the oil patch, but not as a group.
The decision to do so was made at the end of the commission’s July 30 meeting.
In May the commission had announced it would set up a day-long tour to visit more than 30 oil patch sites. The sites have been listed as being those that should be considered for preservation and limited permitting of drilling.
NDIC Executive Director Karlene Fine said the decision was spurred by difficulties in getting the three commissioners’ schedules to line up and make a tour work. Fine said the commission members will visit sites individually as their schedules permit. She added that the commissioners plan to visit each of the sites over the next few months.
“They want to do it before (there’s) snow,” Fine said.
The commission is comprised of the governor, attorney general and agriculture commissioner.
D’s talk session in Mandan
A group of Democratic-NPL Party legislators took questions from Bismarck and Mandan area residents Thursday centering on the work both parties conducted during the recent legislative session.
Four lawmakers met and answered the questions of about 20 people at Harvest Grill in Mandan. They also discussed where they felt the Legislature succeeded and failed earlier in the year.
The conversation spurred attacks on the legislative priorities of the Republican Party, which holds larger than two-thirds majorities in both chambers.
House Minority Leader Kenton Onstad of Parshall called the investments in the western oil patch counties “wholly inadequate.” He took aim at the Oil and Gas Impact Grant Fund as an example.
The fund, which totals $240 million, is to help political subdivisions in oil-impacted counties with critical infrastructure needs. Onstad said the dollars are appreciated but not nearly enough to address current demand. During the 2011-13 biennium, the $150 million in funding was passed out for project requests totaling more than $700 million, he said.
“I would say that $700 million in requests … will grow to over $1 billion,” Onstad said of the 2013-15 biennium.
Rep. Ron Guggisberg of Fargo agreed. He said a higher percentage of oil and gas tax revenues need to stay in the oil patch counties. This, he said, would be more effective than sending the dollars to Bismarck and then having it granted back to political subdivisions.
“Grants are good for handing out large checks and having politicians stand in front of them,” Guggisburg said.
Assistant Senate Minority Leader Joan Heckaman of New Rockford was also in attendance. She said more balance is needed in party representation in the Legislature.
Heckaman also called for state dollars to supplement federal dollars for Head Start in future sessions. State dollars to supplement Head Start was voted down during the session.
Rep. Ed Gruchalla of Fargo spoke about the new law for driving under the influence passed during the session. He called the law “watered down” from a bill he’d helped push that contained more stringent penalties than what was passed.
Jason Flohrs, executive director of the North Dakota Republican Party, provided a response to the meeting on Friday.
“While the minority party likes to only talk about only one aspect of state aid to local oil country government, the truth is almost 40 percent of oil taxes flowed back to these cities and counties in a variety of programs designed to help meet the needs of their rapid growth,” Flohrs said.
Flohrs said total oil patch investments over the 2013-15 biennium are approximately $2.5 billion. He said this doesn’t count the more than $1 billion in statewide kindergarten through grade 12 education spending.
“In the end, Republicans aggressively addressed the needs of our people across the state, worked to create an ever stronger business climate and provided thoughtful solutions to the challenges we face,” Flohrs said.