Southwest county officials plan region’s economic futureMEDORA — Southwest county officials collaborated to formulate ideas that could translate into $1.2 million toward an regional economic plan during a meeting Wednesday afternoon at the Medora Community Center.
By: Klark Byrd, The Dickinson Press
MEDORA — Southwest county officials collaborated to formulate ideas that could translate into $1.2 million toward an regional economic plan during a meeting Wednesday afternoon at the Medora Community Center.
The Southwest Rural Economic Area Partnership sought input from the Department of Transportation, the city of Dickinson, American Petroleum Institute, U.S. Department of Agriculture and a strategic planning company for the best approach to unify and prioritize county projects in the long term.
Unlike most areas of the nation, counties in the western half of North Dakota are not bogged down with unemployment and a poor economy. The counties are concerned with accelerated growth in a rural setting and there needs to be a collaborative effort to plan for expansion and make living manageable for residents of the region, Southwest REAP Director Shirley Brentrup said.
The Southwest REAP is in the process of applying for a federally-funded Regional Sustainable Community Planning Grant.
The award is funded by the DOT, Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Brian Cole, president of Building Communities, Inc. was called in to help with the grant application process.
He said it will be more difficult to get funding because there are fewer funds available, but he was confident the group would be a strong applicant because the area is one of the few rural areas that is seeing development.
“I just can’t fathom this won’t move forward,” he said.
The regional plan would help overcome roads deteriorating, high rent and hotel prices, as well as other concerns that may be apparent in the counties, he said.
Cole said it is important to start discussions on a small scale before moving toward the regional plan.
“We start locally,” he said. “If we do it city by city, or county by county, then we are engaging the problems.”
By bringing local concerns to the regional level, the area will be more organized and competitive for funding to address the specific needs of the area, Cole said after the meeting.
DOT Representative Paul Benning said that when the DOT awarded money to 17 oil impacted counties that the counties were responsible for developing the criteria for distribution.
He suggested that Southwest REAP work in a similar fashion in their application process.
“It’s really important that you fully come together with a game plan that all counties can agree on,” he said.
Southwest REAP Board Chairwoman Kim Nunberg said the sustainability plan would unite counties and allow them to share ideas and contact information.
Dickinson City Planner Ed Courton explained the crew housing ordinance that was recently approved. Nunberg said that would be a useful guideline for other counties experiencing similar concerns.
“There is no need to reinvent the wheel,” she said.
The Southwest REAP, which was eight counties, incorporated 11 counties in the northwest corner of the state after the board unanimously approved expansion of the region early Wednesday.
Cole said that will only strengthen the application.
“The federal government looks for regional cooperation,” he said. “Southwest REAP is a great example of regional cooperation and extending it to 19 counties for purpose of this program will be received, I think, very well by the federal government.”
The pre-application for the grant is due Aug. 25 and the final draft is due at the end of September.