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$2M in grants approved for oil-impacted townships

BISMARCK -- State officials approved $2 million worth of grants for oil-impacted townships Thursday and began discussing how $60 million in additional impact grants will be distributed.

The Board of University and School Lands approved 60 township requests for financial help with road projects in western North Dakota. About one-third of the townships receiving funding are in Mountrail County.

Townships in nine other counties will also benefit. This includes $10,000 for Langberg Township in Bowman County and $47,980 for Saddle Butte Township in Golden Valley County.

The Energy Infrastructure and Impact Grant Program received 167 applications for funding worth $50.3 million, Land Commissioner Lance Gaebe said.

"There are clearly needs beyond this," Gaebe said of the $2 million approved Thursday. "We recognize there are challenges and other needs."

Earlier this year, the Legislature agreed the state could spend up to $100 million during the 2011-13 biennium to help address needs in western North Dakota's 17 oil- and gas-producing counties. The money for these grants comes from taxes paid to the state by the oil and gas industry.

State officials authorized nearly $54 million in grants for cities this summer, leaving $6 million to spend for the rest of the fiscal year. The remaining funding is for grants in 2012-13.

There are still two grant rounds remaining for 2011-12: one for emergency services and response assets and training, and one for airports, counties, parks and other infrastructure.

However, the Board of University and School Lands will now likely have an additional $30 million from the general fund for impact grants. In November, the Legislature approved spending the extra money if oil and gas tax collections exceed projections by at least $48 million.

Officials expect this to happen, and the $30 million would become available April 1. The law requires priority to be given to grants relating to emergency response. Gaebe said one challenge is there are some in emergency services who want to use this funding for staff.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple said other state grants for emergency medical services tend to focus on vehicles, equipment and training.

"Training was a way you could subsidize personnel without getting directly involved in wage subsidy, which the Legislature never had any appetite for," Dalrymple said.

State officials also began discussing the $30 million recently approved for flood-impacted political subdivision infrastructure development grants. State Flood Recovery Coordinator Murray Sagsveen said the state should know more about what kind of assistance is needed in the next month or two.

Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.