Heitkamp: Building strong, safe communities in N.D.

North Dakota has changed a lot over my lifetime, from the incredible innovation and research we see today in the agriculture industry to massive population growth to the state's remarkable energy boom. But what hasn't changed from my early days i...

North Dakota has changed a lot over my lifetime, from the incredible innovation and research we see today in the agriculture industry to massive population growth to the state’s remarkable energy boom. But what hasn’t changed from my early days in Mantador is North Dakota’s commitment to continue to strengthen its communities and make sure folks are safe - values that underscore the work I do every day in the U.S. Senate.
With the lowest unemployment rate in the country, almost 27,000 open jobs, and emerging economic opportunities, our state is on track for even more success in the years to come. But with this unprecedented growth, especially in the Bakken, our state also faces some new law enforcement, border security, infrastructure and safety challenges that can’t be overlooked.
The derailment of a train carrying crude oil near Casselton last December was a turning point. That incident shook all of us. We were incredibly fortunate no one was hurt, but that incident reinforced that we must do better to make safety our top priority. And we need to find a balance because improved safety shouldn’t come at the expense of growth and development.
Along with so many of our state’s small towns and cities, I’ve been tackling these issues head-on since my time as North Dakota’s attorney general in the 1990s.
To continue those efforts and bring stronger attention to making communities safe, I recently announced my new Strong & Safe Communities Initiative. It’s an effort to help address some of the emerging challenges facing the state by bringing a greater focus to keeping North Dakota’s communities strong and families safe in their homes.
My initiative includes a new Strong & Safe Communities Task Force - which I will lead - comprised of North Dakotans from across the state who have strong, thorough understandings of many of the new safety challenges the state faces, including increases in drug-related crimes, human trafficking, infrastructure stress, the movement of crude by rail through North Dakota towns and emerging challenges in Indian Country. The group will work together to offer recommendations for a five-year plan to help make sure North Dakota’s communities remain strong and safe for decades to come.
North Dakotans are committed to our state and are passionate about its success. But what is most important of all is that we are strong and resilient. Even in the face of tough circumstances and disasters like the train derailment in Casselton, we come together and don’t shy away from the tough challenges we face. And I’m confident this will continue, as we find new ways to strengthen our state’s economy, law enforcement and infrastructure. That’s what I’m working to help accomplish.
I’ve long said that my top priority is to make sure North Dakota’s families and communities are safe and protected, and that the towns across our state continue to grow. By drawing on the experience and expertise of Task Force members, along with the critical input of community members, North Dakotans are poised to successfully tackle the issues of today and be prepared to meet the challenges of the future - just as we always have.

Heitkamp is a Democrat from North Dakota in the U.S. Senate. Contact her at

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