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Patch Money: $1.8 million set aside for oil country planning

Grants totaling $1.8 million could help local organizations strategically plan for development in 19 oil-producing counties in western North Dakota, officials said Tuesday during a presentation at Dickinson City Hall.

The North Dakota Association of Oil and Gas Producing Counties and the Southwest Rural Economic Area Partnership Zone received a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In addition, the Energy and Infrastructure and Impact Office provided $300,000 as a match to the grant.

"HUD recognizes that we are an area that needs extra planning," said Vicki Steiner, association executive director. "We are going to take those communities who have fallen through the cracks, and pick them up through this planning effort."

Representatives from the oil and gas producing counties and the Three Affiliated Tribes will use the money to meet economic and infrastructure needs.

The funds will also be used to hire personnel for planning efforts. Officials said planning meetings could begin as early as spring.

Joel Manske, HUD field office director in Fargo, said this is a big win for the state, adding that he didn't expect North Dakota to receive this grant because the pool is very competitive.

"It's an exciting part of the process because we have succeeded," he said "We have created a new opportunity."

Steiner, a state representative, and Southwest REAP Executive Director Shirley Brentrup combined their organizations' efforts toward receiving the grant. The money will help fund regional meetings to help communities plan for infrastructure needs.

Brentrup said a grant will be helpful to smaller communities that do not have the means to properly plan for the growth. She added that planning will be a joint effort to produce the best possible solution for everyone's needs.

"We are dedicated to make this work," she said. "From a planning perspective, we will try to find the best partners to do it and accomplish it and have a good product in the end, not only for regional plans but for individual plans.

"Western North Dakota should be better for our efforts when the Bakken boom is over, and that is ultimately the goal for all of our work," Steiner said.