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Mineral could be hazardous Health Department looks for area volunteers to take part in study

A mineral that occurs naturally in several gravel pits in Stark, Dunn and Billings counties is the subject of a study. The mineral is also in gravel used on area roads.

Scott Radig, from the North Dakota Department of Health, appeared before the Stark County Commission Thursday to talk about erionite in western North Dakota.

Radig said the department is recruiting volunteers from the counties who may have high exposure to the mineral to participate in a medical study.

"The type of people we're looking for have occupational exposure such as gravel pit workers, working in the crushing operations, road workers and also potentially people that have daily driving exposures such as mail carriers, school bus drivers, those sort of thing," he said.

The screening results will go to the University of Cincinnati Medical School, which will do the study for the Environmental Protection Agency, he said.

In June and July the volunteers are to come to Dickinson for lung X-rays and CT scans. They will be screened again by the university, which will be looking for erionite-related lung conditions.

"If any problems are observed ... they'll be given information on how to follow up with that," Radig said.

He said statistics will be compiled after the screenings. If problems are discovered, a plan will be formed.

Volunteers will be paid for travel.

For more information, visit, and click on erionite under current issues.

Residents question property values

Two Stark County residents disputed their 2008 property values and were heard by commissioners at Thursday's meeting. They are among a handful to do so in the past few months.

Members decided to reduce Sandra Koffler's property value.

"It is a property that is in dire need of repair," said Jan Zent, Dickinson assessor. "Actually, a building permit is probably going to have to be obtained to improve the necessary items and until that is done we'll reduce the value."

She added potential progress would be monitored and the property would be reevaluated when finished.

Bill Reiter also disputed the assessment of his property north of Dickinson. Commissioners decided to bring up Reiter's request next month so they can research the matter.

Mick Miller from Richardton's Red Trail Energy asked the commission if it would adjust the company's tax exemption to help the business through tough times. The commission denied the request. The business has an agreement with the county, which began in 2006, making it tax exempt for two years. It was 75 percent exempt in 2007, 50 percent in 2009 and 25 percent exempt in 2010, according to the agreement.

Miller said 2008 was a good year, until June and July.

"What really happened is our industry overbuilt itself," Miller said. "Our plant is operating in negative cash flow scenarios and we're doing everything possible we can to reduce costs."

He said it could take years to bounce back.

"I have received a number of phone calls from area residents including the school board and they're not favorable for granting an exemption," Commissioner Ken Zander said.

Chair Duane "Bucky" Wolf and Commissioner Pete Kuntz said a bigger exemption wouldn't be fair.

"I want to see Red Trail around for a long time," Commissioner Russ Hoff said. "Hopefully this won't deteriorate that."