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South Heart OKs annexation: Questions raised about public notice

Press Photo by Bryan Horwath South Heart City Councilman Chuck Andres reads prepared comments during an annexation meeting Wednesday at City Hall.

SOUTH HEART — The City Council here unanimously approved the annexation of a chunk of land to be used by a multinational oilfield services company during a special meeting Wednesday night.

During a 25-minute meeting, councilmen Floyd Hurt, Chuck Andres, Quain Kudrna and Jayme Lefor voted in favor of a plan to annex 141 acres to the immediate northwest of the city and classify the property for industrial use.

The vote paves the way for Schlumberger Oilfield Services to erect a complex south of Highway 10 and just west of the Pheasant Country Golf Course. Andres said this move is in the best interest of the city despite a number of citizens expressing concern about the project at a previous meeting.

“I personally, and the council collectively, have spent a great deal of time researching this issue before us,” said Andres, reading from prepared comments that lasted about 15 minutes. “I’ve discussed this with state officials who are much more knowledgeable than I about the petroleum industry and the ramifications of annexation into our city.”

A number of people present Wednesday expressed concern after the meeting that public comments were not allowed. Notice for a special meeting was posted on the front door of city hall and at the South Heart Post Office, though no agendas were made public before the meeting.

According to the North Dakota Century Code (44-04-20.6), “topics that may be considered at an emergency or special meeting are limited to those included in the notice.”

South Heart city attorney Michael Maus said he wasn’t aware of any public meeting laws that were broken as a result of Wednesday’s meeting.

Jack McDonald, an attorney for the North Dakota Newspaper Association in Bismarck, disagreed, stating an agenda should have been put on the notice at South Heart City Hall.

While addressing the council — and about two dozen others attending the closed comment meeting — Andres said the city would benefit from a significant bump in tax revenue because of the annexation, which would lead to a more stable financial future for residents during a time of growth in western North Dakota.

“City sales tax revenue estimated to be collected from this annexation is near $5 million per year,” Andres said. “More will be collected by other businesses providing goods and services for this company. Do we deny progress in the midst of an economy that is the envy of the nation or can we control progress by embracing it on our own terms while building a stable and secure future for our community?”

Andres said Wednesday that the vocal display of questioning did not paint the entire picture. A number of residents filled out comment cards in support of the project, Andres said, but he didn’t say how many were filled out and who authored them.

The cards are available at South Heart City Hall, Andres said. He added that annual revenue from the Schlumberger operation would increase local tax rolls and rake in close to $230,000 annually for both the city and the school district.

Questions raised during the March 4 meeting included those associated with noise, views, potential detraction from the golf course and concerns about the potential for radioactive materials being stored on-site, among others.

In a report about the project prepared by Alabama-based developer John Plott Company Inc., the firm stated that the facility would not “store or provide services that involve radioactive chemicals.”

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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