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N.D. Highway Patrol superintendent retiring; Dalrymple announces successor

North Dakota Highway Patrol Maj. Michael Gerhart Jr. (center) takes a reporter's question as Gov. Jack Dalrymple, who appointed Gerhart as patrol superintendent effective July 1, and the retiring superintendent, Col. James Prochniak, listen on Wednesday, April 30, 2014, at the Capitol in Bismarck. Photo by Mike Nowatzki / Forum News Service

BISMARCK – The next superintendent of the North Dakota Highway Patrol said Wednesday he will focus on recruiting quality people for the agency, which has added more than 20 troopers in the past three years as traffic in western counties has increased with oil and gas development.

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Gov. Jack Dalrymple called a news conference to announce that he has appointed Maj. Michael Gerhart Jr. to succeed Col. James Prochniak, the current superintendent who also announced he will retire July 1 after having held the post since August 2009.

Gerhart is taking the helm at a time when the state is benefiting from population growth and development but also experiencing added demand for services, including Highway Patrol assistance, Dalrymple said.

“He will do a great job leading the Highway Patrol in this era of unprecedented growth,” the governor said.

As superintendent, Gerhart will oversee an agency with 168 troopers and a two-year budget of $61 million.

He joined the Highway Patrol in 1992 as a trooper based in Kenmare. He was promoted to regional sergeant in Minot and served in that role until August 2008, when he advanced to lieutenant. He was named director of the patrol’s training academy in 2009 and was promoted to major and field operations commander in 2011.

Gerhart, 44, said he expects a “seamless transition” and to build on the patrol’s past successes.

“My focus is to make sure that we are able to continue to hire quality people and get them the training necessary to serve the communities they’re assigned,” he said.

State lawmakers approved a total of 21 new troopers during a 2011 special session and the 2013 regular session. Eleven of the troopers are currently on patrol, and the remaining 10 are finishing up at the academy and will hit the state’s highways in June, Prochniak said.

Most of the troopers have been assigned to western North Dakota, where an increase in traffic and crashes has accompanied population growth driven by booming oil and gas development. Through April 25 of this year, the Highway Patrol had recorded 29 traffic fatalities, 21 of them in western counties.

Prochniak, who has served nearly 27 years with the patrol, said his decision to retire was largely based on personal reasons.

The 50-year-old has a temporary residence in Bismarck, and he said he looks forward to spending more time at his permanent home in West Fargo reconnecting with his family and church.

“I have a spring in my step,” he said.

Prochniak started with the patrol in 1987 and was stationed as a trooper in Bismarck, Minnewaukan, Casselton and Fargo. He was promoted to captain in 2005 and served as commander of the Fargo district before his appointment to superintendent by then-Gov. John Hoeven.

Dalrymple said Prochniak has done “an excellent job” as superintendent, and Gerhart also said Prochniak’s leadership and commitment to the agency’s success were “very influential.”

Prochniak said he has “a lot of faith” in Gerhart, who will be promoted to colonel.

With the promotion, Gerhart’s annual salary will increase from $97,152 to $103,800. Prochniak’s salary is $103,668.

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.