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Gov. to ask Obama for housing help

Jack Dalrymple

NEW TOWN -- Gov. Jack Dalrymple plans to write a letter to President Barack Obama to ask for help addressing the housing needs on North Dakota reservations.

During a news conference here Tuesday with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Dalrymple said Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers brought in to help Minot after last summer's flooding should go to the Fort Berthold and Turtle Mountain reservations after the Minot families move out.

The trailers were specifically designed for northern climates, Dalrymple said.

"We are asking that the reservations in North Dakota have an advantage in the bidding and application for the distribution of those trailers," Dalrymple said. "We are going to try to cut through that bureaucratic process and see if we can keep a lot of this great housing right here in the area."

The Bureau of Indian Affairs is saying the trailers need to be available to every reservation in America equally, Dalrymple said. However, he said it doesn't make sense to move cold-weather trailers to southern reservations.

"The trailers are near the places where they really need housing, especially for poor people," Dalrymple said. "We never get an opportunity to get FEMA trailers that are designed for the cold ... we finally get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and then they want to take them back south again."

The BIA falls under the Department of the Interior, which is why Dalrymple said he brought the issue up to Salazar. The interior secretary recommended writing to Obama and sending copies of the letter to himself and to FEMA, Dalrymple said.

Even 150 trailers would ease some of the pressure and help families in need, said Delvin Reeves, a construction specialist for Tribal Housing Services in New Town on the Fort Berthold Reservation.

"There's really nothing available," Reeves said. "It's disheartening when we have to let people know that."

More families are being forced to live with other family members because of the housing shortage and pushed up rents because of the oil boom, he said. Tribal Housing Services has more than 250 applications for FEMA trailers, he said.

"On top of that, there's probably many more who have applications in other housing offices," he said.

Salazar heard about a variety of western North Dakota infrastructure issues during a two-day tour that included stops in Dickinson and New Town.

Three Affiliated Tribes Chairman Tex Hall talked about oil boom traffic, including poor visibility, cracked windshields and "a rooster tail of dust." Immediate road maintenance needs for this year add up to $8.5 million, a fraction of the total needs, he said.

Salazar said it was amazing to see the Fort Berthold Reservation go from one oil well when he was there three years ago to 245 wells today.

While that is great for energy independence, there's also a need for federal, state and tribal government partnerships to address problems for roads and infrastructure, Salazar said.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said he wants the federal transportation bill to give priority funding to the nation's energy corridors.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said it's important that Salazar came to North Dakota to see the state needs more help with roads and needs pipelines to help take truck traffic off the roads. Hoeven also emphasized the need for the federal government to sign off on refinery projects faster, saying the approval process takes too long.

Also Tuesday, Salazar unveiled new initiatives to expedite development of domestic energy resources on U.S. public lands and Indian trust lands. New automated tracking systems could reduce the review period for drilling permits by two-thirds and expedite the sale and processing of federal oil and gas leases, a news release said.

Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.