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Tour of oil counties wrap up; agencies working

BISMARCK -- State agencies are working on a list of recommendations following their 14-city tour of western North Dakota oil cities this month.

The public meetings provided greater understanding of the challenges in the oil cities, as well as more communication with the public about how the state is already working to help, Commerce Commissioner Al Anderson said Friday.

The next step is to document the issues and begin assigning action items, Anderson said.

"We're trying to come up with what are the next key steps to truly make a difference and help folks," he said.

The tour stretched from Williston to Bottineau and made its way south to conclude in New England and Bowman. Transportation and housing were common issues brought up during the meetings, Anderson said. In cities farther away from the intense activity, rural water supply was a big issue, he said.

Anderson was pleased with the meeting participation and the conversations about possible solutions. The agencies will put together a report from the tour and see what changes can be made going forward, he said.

For 2011-13, the state appropriated $1.2 billion to rebuild and repair roads in oil country, as well as to support housing development, enhance emergency medical services and address other impacts.

The state continues to facilitate the development of low-income housing in the oil counties, Gov. Jack Dalrymple said in a news release this week.

"We remain fully engaged with community partners to continue making more affordable housing available in our oil and gas counties," Dalrymple said in a statement. "We must do all we can so that people can stay in their communities even in the face of this tremendous housing demand."

In Williston, more than 2,000 new housing units are in various stages of development, including 305 single family homes, 113 manufactured homes and 1,017 apartment units, the release said.

In Dickinson, more than 2,300 new housing units are under development, including 700 single family homes, 200 duplexes and 270 apartment units. These housing units include hotels and extended-stay facilities.

To address North Dakota's current and future housing needs, the state Housing Finance Agency has commissioned a comprehensive study expected to be complete this summer, the governor's office said.

Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co