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Land Board approves $58 million for Oil Patch

BISMARCK -- More than $58 million is heading to cities and counties around the Oil Patch to address infrastructure and law enforcement needs.

The North Dakota Board of University & School Lands approved a series of grants Thursday through the state Oil and Gas Impact Grant Fund to help sheriff departments and water, sewer and infrastructure projects related to permanent housing growth. The Land Board also approved funding through the Attorney General's office for vehicles and equipment at local police departments and general law enforcement needs.

The board also committed $31.2 million for projects during the 2014 fiscal year. The money will be allocated next year.

Included in the requests were three counties wanting money to help pay for overtime for sheriff's departments. Law enforcement agencies have been asking for help to hire new employees, but the Land Board has said it will not fund new employees because the grants are one-time funding. Without more officers, law enforcement agencies are having to pay more overtime.

Hearing the sheriff's concerns, Gov. Jack Dalrymple, who chairs the Land Board, said Thursday the grants will cover the requested overtime, freeing up money for other expenses.

He added that counties were given several million dollars more from the oil and gas tax revenues, which should also help cover local county needs.

"Counties should have, in the total picture, the resources they are going to need to do the job," he said. "We want to assist and fill gaps, but at the end of the day, they are county sheriffs."

The board awarded $390,000 to five county sheriff's departments, $228,000 to three city police departments and $750,000 for a law enforcement custody and arrest manual.

Additionally, $149,000 will go toward a half-time prosecutor in the attorney general's office to help prosecute crimes in oil country.

"The state's attorneys have been hopeful we would do something to assist them to prosecute crimes," said Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, a member of the Land Board.

The Land Board will need approval from the state Emergency Commission to add the employee.

City grants

Three hub cities around the Oil Patch will receive $14 million to address infrastructure needs.

The Land Board gave Dickinson $7 million, Williston $2 million and Minot $5 million.

Additionally, Bowman, Dunn and Mountrail counties will each receive $1 million to aid in dust control, with the state working to regionalize the efforts and share resources around other western oil counties.

Another $39.6 million this fiscal year will go to nonhub cities.

Watford City will receive $10 million for wastewater, transportation and facilities improvement. Tioga will see $6 million, and the city of Belfield will get a $4.7 million grant the next two years for a water tower, pump station and transmission line.

The Land Board has $239.3 million to allocate the next two years. The board projects to spend $143 million this fiscal year and $95 million next year.

Lance Gaebe, commissioner of the North Dakota Department of Trust Lands, said the most challenging aspects of providing grants is sorting the need from the want.

"We are spending a lot of energy trying to figure out the real critical needs and things that have to get done in the short term," he said.

School grants

Schools around the Oil Patch have asked the Land Board for a total of $21.3 million in grants to help offset local costs while adjusting to rapid population increases.

The Land Board took its first look at 42 applications Thursday that are all vying for a piece of the $12.5 million in state funds.

The board likely will grant the awards at a special meeting after a committee finishes reviewing the applications next week.

The Energy Impact Office of the North Dakota Department of Trust Lands will administer the one-time funding awards.

A priority will be given to projects that will be implemented before the 2013-14 school year and to projects that address safety and security needs. A 20 percent local match of the total project cost is required.

The largest request came from the Tioga Public School District, which seeks $7.7 million to expand an elementary school and $1 million for expanding the high school cafeteria kitchen and equipment. An additional $162,000 is being requested for security at both schools.

The McKenzie County Public School District is asking for $4.6 million to expand the elementary school's parking lot, classrooms and playground, while purchasing more security and land.

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.