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No limit placed on first round of Outdoor Heritage Fund grants

BISMARCK -- The panel that will recommend which projects receive grants through North Dakota's new Outdoor Heritage Fund decided Thursday not to cap the dollars that will be awarded during the first grant round, despite one member warning an expensive multi-year project could quickly tie up funds.

Members of the fund's Advisory Board also heard that revenue flowing into the fund is beating earlier projections by the state budget office, but still probably won't reach the fund's limit of $30 million every two years as set by the state Legislature when it created the fund last spring.

The fund receives a percentage of the state's oil and gas gross production tax to address needs related to conservation, recreation and agriculture. The Office of Management and Budget projected the fund would generate about $17 million during the 2013-15 biennium.

But the projection didn't include $715,000 in revenue collected in August, and September's collection beat OMB's projection by roughly $130,000, putting the fund more than $800,000 ahead of projections, said Karlene Fine, executive director of the state's Industrial Commission, which will administer the fund.

The first round of grant applications is due Dec. 2. Board members voted Thursday to have three grant rounds per year, with application deadlines of April 1, Aug. 1 and Nov. 1.

The panel of 12 voting members and four nonvoting members debated whether to set a dollar limit for the first grant round. Carolyn Godfread of Bismarck, a conservation at-large member, cautioned that setting a limit and then not awarding that much in grants could make it appear that the state isn't awarding grants like it's supposed to be.

Others questioned whether the state could award a grant to be paid over multiple two-year periods. Fine said the full grant amount would need to be awarded at the time that the Industrial Commission approves the project.

"So, we could tie ourselves up pretty fast," said board member Bob Kuylen, vice president of the North Dakota Farmers Union.

Board member Tom Hutchens of Ducks Unlimited moved that the board set the limit at $10 million for total grants awarded in the first round. His motion died for lack of a second, and the board moved on without establishing a cap.

The board unanimously approved the scoring and ranking process that will be used to recommend proposals to the Industrial Commission, which is made up of the governor, attorney general and agricultural commissioner.

The commission will be asked to approve the process at its meeting Tuesday.

Mike Nowatzki

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