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Elliott: Hopeful outlook in heart of the Bakken

When horizontal drilling kick started the Bakken in 2007, few of us expected the energy industry to grow so large so quickly.

Similarly, we never expected the immense change to our communities in western North Dakota, changes of both tremendous challenges and incredible opportunities.

Today, our communities are evolving and we are better able to handle our growth.

Relief funding from the state is building better roads and helping us hire essential personnel. Permanent housing is under construction. Retail and service businesses are emerging. We see new residents choose our communities as a long-term place for their families and careers.

For the first years of the boom, our communities played catch up. We were inundated with traffic, workers and construction. Our cities lacked the capacity, experience, funding and shared vision needed to handle explosive growth.

Today, the storm has calmed and our cities and counties are formulating long-term growth plans. We've put in place zoning requirements, developed plans for new development, and increased the safety of our communities with new police officers and judges.

New proposed projects will increase the quality of our health care, improve our water and sewer infrastructure, and add hundreds of homes to our small towns, in addition to the thousands of new homes in Williston.

New commercial projects, such as the grocery store in Watford City, are bettering the services we utilize every day.

Our local governments have balanced growing state relief funding with the ever-growing demand for city services. In Arnegard, we have utilized state funding and created strategic partnerships to meet our challenges.

The city recently added its first police chief with the help of an $83,000 grant from the Oil and Gas Impact Grant Fund and hopes to build new affordable housing for city employees using special funding options from the North Dakota Finance Agency.

But even with record funding from the state, local governments are still strained and are looking to creative sources of developing infrastructure.

Because funding sources are thoroughly tapped, communities in the Bakken expect developers to fund the entire costs of new infrastructure, a practice not required by cities on the eastern side of North Dakota, who routinely split the costs for new development.

Similarly, Arnegard partnered with a private company to add the city's first sewer services, unlocking our community for further growth.

Encouragingly, as the energy industry transitions to controlled growth and our area's infrastructure improves, involvement in our community is growing from new residents and investors. Our new neighbors are joining the community, volunteering for local groups and efforts and even taking local leadership roles.

When a seat opened on Arnegard's city commission, new residents applied for the opening. A hopeful vision for the future is forming in western North Dakota. While we have a lot left to do, we see what our communities can become as our cities grow and new residents join the community.

We'll have great careers and better services. We'll have fewer trucks and safer roads. We'll build new homes and add new families.

In Arnegard, we hold this hope and vision. After fighting for decades to reverse out-migration, the energy industry has brought a tremendous opportunity to our city and we look forward to welcoming new families into our community.

Together with them, we will build a vibrant small town, a growing community full of character and shared values.

Elliott is the mayor of Arnegard.