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Improving a county seat: Unincorporated Manning, the small seat of Dunn County, not immune to oil boom growth

MANNING -- Over the hills and through the Oil Patch sits a small town that, until a few years ago, hadn't seen much change. But in the midst of the energy boom, even the unincorporated city of Manning has begun to attract residents and ideas of i...

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MANNING - Over the hills and through the Oil Patch sits a small town that, until a few years ago, hadn’t seen much change.
But in the midst of the energy boom, even the unincorporated city of Manning has begun to attract residents and ideas of improvement.
“We’ve got some nice homes and good people,” lifetime resident Emanuel Stroh said. “It’s time to improve things.”
Since the Dunn County seat does not have a city government, it falls under the jurisdiction of the county commission. But that shouldn’t suggest that its 75 residents - per the 2010 U.S. Census - don’t take pride in the city nestled in the Bakken. Residents have been working with county officials to get its streets their first makeover since the city was built.
“I feel it is the county seat,” Stroh said. “We have a nice courthouse and a nice shop, and it’s time to do something with the streets.”
The only paved road in Manning is Highway 22, which cuts through the center of town and is a major oilfield traffic artery. But aside from parking lots and driveways, the rest of the streets are dirt and gravel.
Stroh, the main advocate for improving the streets of Manning, has talked with county commissioners about the pavement project, which would also include curb and gutter improvements, as well as storm sewer infrastructure to carry rain and melted snow away from people’s yards. Stroh and county auditor Tracey Dolezal both said the main issue with the streets is its drainage.
Aside from bringing in water infrastructure through Southwest Water Authority in 1995, which Stroh said was “a big asset,” the street project, estimated at about $8.1 million, would be Manning’s first major improvement. The county hopes to draw some funding from the $1.1 billion surge fund, which was signed into law by Gov. Jack Dalrymple earlier this week.
“We haven’t done anything with the streets other than a load of gravel here and there,” Stroh said.
Manning has also seen new residents, Stroh said. Since the boom started several years ago, the city has added a trailer court and several homes. Older homes have also been remodeled, while other community members are renting out space.
Stroh estimates 50 people have moved to Manning, in addition to the 2010 Census count. And the additional people has meant more wear and tear on the roads.
“They need to be improved because they just keep getting worse and worse every year with the traffic on them,” Stroh said.
The project is in its infancy as commissioners consider several options, including if the city needs asphalt or other material, Dolezal said.
New shop means faster response
There isn’t much along the 15-mile stretch of Highway 22 between Manning and Killdeer, which is the closest city to the county seat. But, because the road is so busy with oilfield traffic, Manning offers a convenience store with groceries and home-cooked meals, a bar with full entrees and a community church. It’s also home to the Dunn County Courthouse and the county’s newest addition: a $3 million, 15,000-square-foot county shop. The county also recently built a roughly $1.1 million shop for its Weed Control Board.
“With the growth and everything, they just ran out of room,” Dolezal said.
Manning’s old county shop, just 2,400 square feet, is now used for storing vehicles and equipment for the Dunn County Sheriff’s Office, road superintendent Mike Zimmerman said. In that way, more than one department benefits.
With more than 2,000 square miles in Dunn County, there is a lot of ground to cover, Zimmerman said. Manning’s shop is one of three in the county. There are others in Killdeer and Halliday.
But the main advantages are having more space for storage and a warm building to keep equipment in top shape, especially during the winter months. Manning road foreman Mike Buresh said the old shop was overcrowded, and employees would have to wait hours before the machinery used to clear and fix roads were warm enough to perform their duties.
The equipment is electronic, Zimmerman said, which doesn’t mix well with cold weather. If the machinery is left out in the elements, it could take hours before it is ready to hit the road. Because the equipment doesn’t have to warm up outside, road department employees can respond to incidents and clean roads faster. Overall, it’s an improvement in quality of life for residents in the county.
“Now you can get in and go,” Buresh said of the heated shop, which houses millions of dollars in equipment. “We were trying to localize our shop so we didn’t have to drive so far to plow snow. With all the traffic, it makes it harder to road these machines.”
Like the old shop, the new county building has a wash bay, but there is now enough space to store Manning’s equipment without having to walk over it, Buresh said.
“It was time to upgrade and give these guys something decent to work in,” Zimmerman said.
“I’m happy for the guys that work out of this area,” Zimmerman said. “Response time and everything is going to be improved by this.”
There is good and bad in the growth the boom has brought, Dolezal said. Manning is no different, and it’s a matter of proper planning.
“It’s good to see things growing and thriving,” she said. “We just need to try to do it in an orderly manner.”

Baumgarten is the news editor of The Dickinson Press. Contact her at 701-456-1210.

Related Topics: DUNN COUNTY
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