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State gives Oil Patch $12M boost

BISMARCK -- The state will give strained emergency services in western North Dakota a $12 million boost -- $5 million more than initially planned -- plus $5 million for fast-growing Oil Patch schools.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple said the needs for dealing with the oil boom are much greater than anybody thought even a few months ago. The $12 million "will make a significant difference in the delivery of emergency services in oil country," he said.

The state Board of University and School Lands unanimously agreed Thursday to add $5 million for emergency services to the initially planned $7 million.

Public safety is a top priority for the energy impact program, which is why more funding was recommended, said Lance Gaebe, director of the Energy Infrastructure and Impact Office.

The energy office received requests for $40.4 million in grants from 163 applications, not all of which met the emergency services criteria of this funding round.

The board agreed to give partial funding to 106 requests, including:

-- Fire departments: $5.3 million for 59 requests,

-- Ambulances: $4 million for 29 requests,

-- Joint law enforcement/fire/ambulance: $2.1 million for six requests,

-- Law enforcement: $563,000 for 12 requests.

Awards include $200,000 each for new ambulances in Belfield and Medora, $100,000 for a new ambulance in Bowman and $350,000 for a new rescue vehicle and equipment for Dickinson Rural Fire District.

The city of Dickinson will receive $10,500 for oil field emergency training classes and $1.5 million for a public safety center. Killdeer Area Ambulance will receive $120,000 for a new ambulance and $466,000 for an ambulance garage.

Also Thursday, the Land Board agreed to spend up to $5 million to help rapidly growing schools in the Oil Patch. The state defines rapidly growing as an annual increase of at least 7 percent, as long as the district added at least 25 students.

Earlier this week, the energy office received a letter from Williston Public Schools asking for financial help for temporary portable classrooms, Gaebe said. The school district asked for $3 million in help for the next school year to accommodate an influx of students.

The board agreed to help Williston, and the energy office will notify other eligible school districts of the potential for funding help. The schools would need to demonstrate a need for money, which can only be used for K-8 temporary classrooms and requires a local match.

"The beauty of our energy impact grant program is that it can respond to situations that were not anticipated," Dalrymple said. "In the case of the Williston School District, $3 million will be very helpful in allowing them to move forward with their expansion plans for this fall's enrollment."

Williston Public School Superintendent Viola LaFontaine anticipates the district will grow by 800 to 1,200 students next fall.

"For sure, this (funding) is going to make a big impact," LaFontaine said.

After Thursday's awards, the state has about $53.6 million left to spend for the biennium in energy impact grants.

The next energy impact grant round will focus on airports, counties, parks and other infrastructure. The Land Board has $5 million set aside for these grants.

The energy impact office will also soon begin accepting applications for another city infrastructure grant round. There is $36.6 million set aside for the cities, with $16.8 million to split among Williston, Minot and Dickinson and $19.8 million for other Oil Patch cities.

During the last session, the Legislature agreed the state could spend up to $100 million during the 2011-13 biennium to help address needs in western North Dakota's 17 oil- and gas-producing counties. The money for these grants comes from taxes paid to the state by the oil and gas industry.

In November, the Legislature approved spending $30 million from the general fund for impact grants if oil and gas tax collections exceeded projections by at least $48 million, which they have.

Prior grant awards include $53.5 million to help city infrastructure and $2 million to help townships in oil country.

Forum Communications reporter Amy Dalrymple contributed to this story.

Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.