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Cramer visits Dickinson BLM office

North Dakota Rep. Kevin Cramer stopped by the Bureau of Land Management’s North Dakota field office in Dickinson as part of a trip around western North Dakota on Friday.

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At the BLM office, Cramer had an informal discussion with about 20 employees who brought up issues like employee recruitment with the region’s high living costs and the need for more staff to catch up with permit applications for drilling on federal lands.

“It was awesome,” said Loren Wickstrom, assistant field manager for minerals at the North Dakota field office.

“He’s a people person and he was by himself,” Wickstrom said of Cramer. “He did not have a handler or photographer or anything.”

BLM employees brought up the idea of paying federal employees in the Bakken region a little extra to cover the high cost of living here.

“We did talk about the fact that to rent a one-bedroom apartment here in Dickinson, North Dakota, is as expensive as trying to rent a one-bedroom apartment in downtown Washington, D.C., next to the Capitol,” Wickstrom said.

Cramer said he will see if there is a way to get extra compensation for federal employees in the region based on the cost of living.

“It’s very difficult for management here in this office to compete with industry,” Wickstrom said, “because we’re competing for many of the same people with the same talent pool and our pay is significantly lower than what someone working for the oil companies (would make).”

Wickstrom said the BLM has land on which it plans to build duplexes for long-term employee housing.

Cramer said he also would look into another issue brought up at the meeting — a lack of staff.

The North Dakota BLM office faces a backlog of drilling application permits brought on by the government shutdown in October.

Cramer said he will look into whether some of the filing fees for permits can be routed back to the BLM office to hire more staff and help “loosen up that backlog.”

“If we could find a way to allow them to use more of those filing fees rather than sending them to Washington, not only could we ease the workload a little bit and be more responsive for our other industries and the other citizens of North Dakota, it allows the companies to generate even more income,” Cramer said.

Wickstrom said the BLM office has a number of positions in its table of organization that are currently unfunded.

Cramer also visited with a U.S. Forest Service ranger in McKenzie County.

He said at both visits, he expressed his appreciation for the federal employees handling the on-the-ground impacts of oil and gas, especially in light of the recent government shutdown.