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‘A growing community’: South Heart stomachs growth, looks forward to more

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SOUTH HEART — In South Heart, on the southern edge of the booming Bakken Oil Patch in western North Dakota, things have recently began to settle down a little.

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Whether that’s a good or bad thing probably depends on who is opining.

“Things have leveled off a little bit here,” South Heart Mayor Floyd Hurt said. “In a way, that’s good. But we’d like to have a little more building going on. As of right now, we’re kind of at a standstill.”

Though a “standstill” in most communities the size of South Heart — which had a listed population of 340 following the 2012 census — around the country translates to exactly what it sounds like, it’s a unique condition in these parts.

A water and sewer project is nearing completion, a mammoth oil refinery’s campus is going up a few miles east of town and should be done before the end of the year, and a new hotel is set to go up. South Heart has plenty going on — it just isn’t as hectic as, say, Watford City.

“We just finished up with our 200,000 (gallon) water tank, which will increase our water capacity to 300,000 gallons,” Hurt said. “We had it online, but had some trouble with freezing of the floats. We have a contractor coming down to readjust the floats soon. Once that’s done, I think we’ll be OK.”

Though Hurt said the official contract hasn’t been signed yet, South Heart will also have a new wastewater runoff system, which is tied to the under-construction Dakota Prairie Refinery and the city of Dickinson.

“We’ve been working with Dickinson for our sewer,” Hurt said. “As soon as we get our contract worked out, we’re ready to go with that. We’re going to run a line to 116th (Avenue) and dump our wastewater into a station there.”

Changes both big and small

Being built on a 375-acre site between Dickinson and South Heart, the diesel topping plant is expected to refine about 20,000 barrels of sweet Bakken crude every day once it’s up and running.

The first greenfield refinery to be built in the U.S. since 1976, Dakota Prairie Refinery is a joint venture between MDU Resources and Calumet Specialty Products Partners. The facility now employs between 400 and 500 people during its construction phase and will have 100 full-time workers once it’s completed, according to Calumet’s website.

On the recreation side, 2013 was another banner year for the Pheasant Country Golf Course, an 18-hole layout the quality of which is generally not seen in a town as small as South Heart.

“It’s been pretty crazy,” said course professional Kirby Robb. “You see new faces all the time during the season. There aren’t a lot of golf courses in the area, so this is one that gets played a lot. You used to know almost everybody who came to your course. Now you don’t know nearly three-fourths of them.”

Since coming to South Heart from Fargo in 2006, Robb said he has witnessed a dramatic uptick in rounds played and memberships.

“Last year, we had about as much business as in 2012 with a month and a half of the season left,” Robb said. “I think it’s going to be crazy from now on. We have lots of new members and have people that you only see once, too. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens in the next 20 years here with all the growth in western North Dakota. Will Dickinson and South Heart become one city? Dickinson keeps on moving west.”

School, recreation improvements

South Heart Public School Superintendent Riley Mattson, who also serves on the town’s park board, said a new baseball and softball field, and accompanying shelter project for Adamski Park should be finished this summer. It will add to recreational opportunities for community members, especially children.

“We’re putting up a new picnic shelter, which will also include handicap bathrooms, showers and a kitchen area,” Mattson said. “Our plan is to have that all ready for this summer season, possibly toward the end of May. We want it to be a community complex. We’ve had our burgers in the barn with the Lions Club on Monday nights and we want to make that a ‘burgers in the park’ event. We’re also working on refurbishing the ball diamond (at Adamski Park) and we’d like to start offering T-ball and Little League.”

Though it hasn’t garnered some of the headlines that other school districts struggling to keep up in western North Dakota have, South Heart has certainly witnessed its share of growth, Mattson said.

“Our enrollment has increased the past three years or so,” Mattson said. “At one time, we were around 200 students. Now we’re at about 250, K-12. We just try to keep up with hiring the appropriate number of staff to meet our students’ needs. In the meantime, we’ve done two rounds of putting in modular classrooms. The summer of 2012, we put in five units and we put in another five units during the summer of 2013. We’re trying to stay ahead of the game.”

Doing that, Mattson said, could include plans for additional South Heart’s school facilities, though nothing is concrete now.

“We have to look forward with the assumption that our enrollment will continue to grow,” Mattson said. “We will be in the process, in the near future, of looking at a facilities need. Also, we may want to look at sharing services with Belfield. We’re not sure. What we’re hearing is that oil production in this area will continue to grow and, if that happens, more people will be moving to the area. It’s a guessing game right now. But we are looking at ways to stay ahead of the curve.”

Challenges of growth

As many communities in western North Dakota have seen, growth and change can also be paired with adversity.

Recent improvements made to the rail crossing in South Heart, just north of the Farmers Daughter Café, were supposed to make the town a train “quiet zone,” thought Hurt said that paperwork has yet to be completed on the project.

“Right now, we’re not a quiet zone,” Hurt said. “Everything is complete, we’re just waiting on all the paperwork to be finished and turned in by the other parties involved.”

Though South Heart does not have a full-time police presence, Hurt said that members of the Dickinson Police Department have been patrolling part-time for about the past year. The Stark County Sheriff’s Office is currently investigating a January break-in that occurred at the café, which has added to worries of some in town about increased crime.

“With more people will come more of a lot of things,” Robb said. “When I got here and bought my home, there weren’t that many homes around the golf course. Now, the original lots are almost all gone and there’s that new subdivision by the driving range. This is definitely a growing community.”

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Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
(701) 456-1207
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