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Kevin Holten

Holten: What's the lasting oil boom legacy?

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columns Dickinson, 58602
Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

Let's say that you're a farmer who owns a cow and someone comes along and says they would love to take ole Bessie off your hands. Do you give her to them or do you sell her to them?

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Or let's say that you have oil under your land and an oil company comes along and says that they'd like to drill for that oil. Do you give it to them or do you sell it to them?

The fact is, you deserve something for your assets and that's why you ask for a payment of some kind. Because what you are really trying to do is get the biggest possible return for your asset, in hopes that it will go towards building an even bigger asset.

In fact, not only are you trying to build a bigger asset, you are trying to turn that bigger asset into a full blown lasting "legacy."

According to the dictionary, a legacy is anything that is handed down from the past, as from an ancestor or predecessor.

So, in some cases, the return for your asset might be the money that is used as payment for a piece of land that quickly goes up in value and becomes an even bigger asset that evolves into a legacy.

In other words, a bigger asset is a big deal, but a legacy is what you should strive for because, unlike a big asset, which is much more temporary, a legacy is infinitely durable and immeasurable.

For example, a chunk of concrete is an asset and an interstate highway or freeway, made up of a lot of concrete, is a legacy.

Which leads me to wonder what lasting legacy our state government and local private investors are looking to build from this oil boom? What really big thing or things are they looking to establish that'll make a big mark and last a long time and improve North Dakota long into the future? Or more simply put, what is the plan?

Are they thinking about anything big at all? Is there a legacy on their radar screen?

Oh sure, the state is collecting billions of dollars in oil tax revenue. But a lot of that goes towards repairing destroyed highways that are soon destroyed again. Not a legacy at all.

Other money eventually goes towards helping to repair or enlarge buildings here and there, at high schools or colleges or for city and other government buildings, and maybe even a hospital or two and that's good.

But I'm hearing little about new curriculums and updated educational processes or building community infrastructures or reducing the investment students and families have to make to obtain an advanced education that'll put them steps ahead.

So I ask again, what is the lasting legacy?

Meanwhile, cities and communities in western North Dakota are paying the price for success. People with fixed incomes are being forced to move because of rising rent and small communities are being turned into man camps instead of thriving communities.

That's progress, you say. No, it's not. And, who's to blame? We all are.

You see, the oil industry is a traveling carnival that follows the most profitable and retrievable oil deposits and when they arrive in the Oil Patch, they are often greeted by Mr. Greed or Mr. Sit-On-His-Hands and his cousin, Mr. I-Don't-Like-Change.

The average worker can't bring his family with him to North Dakota because there is no housing and it's too expensive anyway.

Meanwhile cities like Arnegard and Killdeer, Ross and Crosby are filled with hard-working men living in deplorable conditions who'd love to have a better lifestyle and bring their families with them.

And what would prompt them to bring their families with them? It is a rebuilt Alamo or Beach, Grenora or Ray, Springbrook or Alexander and other communities that can offer affordable housing, recreation, education and social interaction.

But we've all assumed that these communities are dead and gone and that everyone has to or wants to live in big cities. Or that things will dry up soon and they'll all be gone. That's not true.

All of these communities have been visited by investors who want to create housing developments, restaurants, bowling alleys and nice little communities. So what's missing? Infrastructure: curbs and gutters, water treatment plants and such.

Where does the money for that come from? It comes from state, county and city funds or private investors. Either way, it creates thriving communities, hope and a return to the way it was.

Now that's a lasting legacy.

Holten is the manager of The Drill, which is published by Forum News Service. Email him at kholten@thedickinsonpress.com.

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