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Dunn County seeks $10M grant to implement safety measures on roads

The number of oil rigs in Dunn County is poised to magnify by the end of the summer.

That could mean more traffic and people are on the way, leading to an increase in possible accidents on area roads in western North Dakota, where a growing number of severe crashes are already occurring.

In an effort to get ahead of the problem, Dunn County is seeking to nab itself a portion of a $10 million North Dakota Department of Transportation grant available to the 17 oil-producing counties to help implement safety measures on roads.

Mike Zimmerman, Dunn County road superintendent, said he signed the county up for the funds.

"(The NDDOT) will come out and evaluate our curbs and stuff on our paved roads, possibly make recommendations for rumble strips," he said. "They are not going to come out and do any dirt work. It's just minor improvements, but they'll also offer advice on how to improve road safety."

Oil companies, like Occidental Petroleum Corp., known as Oxy for short, are also doing what they can for the cause, said Scott Evey with Oxy in Dickinson.

In total, there are about 30 active oil rigs in Dunn County, with three of them belonging to Oxy, according to the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources.

Evey said Oxy is trying to improve safety through programs for the company's drivers, reminding them of things like not texting and driving and to slow down when behind the wheel.

"Hopefully that will make it a little better," he said. "In the spring, hopefully things will be better than it's been in the past. We don't want to make enemies, so we want to do what we can to make things better on the roads for everyone."

Safety concerns on the roads are increasing at the same time chatter has picked up at the state level about Dunn County's chances of receiving 47 more rigs by August, said Dunn County Commissioner Daryl Dukart.

"We could possibly have 80 to 90 rigs in the county for a period of six to nine months," he said. "That's what they are thinking is going to happen, so I think the legislative people who are working on this from the transportation side are trying to gear up and stay in front of these high impacts."

Up until this last year, Dukart said about 35 percent to 40 percent of Dunn County was impacted by oil production.

"But as this is moving, we're approaching a larger percentage of the county being impacted," he said. "When I look at it, and even Sen. (Dwight) Cook told me the other day, that when he looks at Dunn County, it looks like you guys stay abreast of everything and are not really caught too far behind or way ahead thinking that things are coming."

It is necessary to be realistic about the challenges and issues the county faces, said Commissioner Reinhardt Hauck.

He said Dunn County still needs to decide how to make projects shovel-ready, so they can get going on projects when the weather breaks come spring.

"We have to be realistic because if we go in there with big demands, we're not going to get it," he said.