Nodaks don’t like to brag about themselves -- when I was a boy, I recall disapproving comments about people who got “the big head.” State Rep. Kim Koppelman is well aware of those attitudes, but still felt obliged to say, “But right now, we might be forgiven for taking stock in where we find ourselves — not only as the envy of an economically struggling nation but as a positive example, as well.” As chairman of the Council of State Governments, he said it was bittersweet to be prosperous and stable in a nation that’s floundering. Nevertheless, he ventured “for one brief moment, North Dakotans might be justified in holding their heads just a bit higher.”
Oil production is soaring in ND and over 100 oil rigs are at work in the state. Today's rigs each do the work of eight rigs in the past. That means that today's 100 rigs translate into 800 on the old basis. Compare that to the previous high of 146 rigs in 1961. The state has 4,500 producing wells of which 1,000 were drilled in the last two years.
There are many bright spots in the ND economy and state budget, but there is at least one dark spot. The state-run Teachers’ Fund for Retirement ran into big investment losses and is $600 million in the hole. The director of the ND Education Association said, “We’re all trying to find a way to share the pain.” The pain will be allocated by the 2011 Legislature.
Jack Dalrymple is ND’s Lt. Governor -- that’s his day job -- he is also the chairman of Dakota Growers, a food processor with plants in Carrington and New Hope, Minn. Dakota Growers is the nation’s third largest pasta producer and has about 1,200 shareholders, most of whom grow durum wheat, the company’s principal raw material. Viterra Inc., a Canadian grain and food processing company, has offered to buy Dakota Growers for $240 million -- Mr Dalrymple has recommended the offer be accepted.
Grand Forks is a hockey town and, appropriately, Herald Editor Mike Jacobs is a hockey fan. He’s not the blood boiling type of fan, more one who respects the healthy traditions of the sport. So he seemed mildly out of character when he took slap shots at two hockey executives who “apparently want to drive it (hockey) into the ice.” First up was Gary Bettman, the commissioner of the National Hockey League, who hinted that NHL players wouldn’t play in the next winter Olympic games. Jacobs curtly suggested, “Don’t mess with a good thing, Mr. Commissioner.” Next, he aimed at WCHA Commissioner Bruce McCleod. Dropping his gloves, Jacobs accused McCleod of laxness in punishing a Wisconsin star for disabling a key UND player and later provoking a fight with another. Jacobs echoed a Herald sports writer who declared WCHA officials “had lost control of the ice.”
A Minneapolis Star Tribune sports columnist speculated about potential outcomes for the U. of Minnesota hockey team in upcoming playoffs. One outcome was considered particularly disheartening -- the Gophers meeting the UND Sioux at “The Ralph.” The fearful speculation has become reality -- the Sioux and Gophers play a best 2-out-of-3 series beginning Friday, March 12. The Ralph is sold out for the series -- the two teams are tied for the season.
Aggie Jennings catered two weddings and a family reunion and the guests filled emergency rooms near Bismarck. The unlicensed caterer mowed down 180 people with food poisoning. Jennings has been order to stop catering, but was spared formal charges from the State Health Department. A district health executive said, “We are confident she will never do this again.”
ND was slipping in the rankings -- in 2008 it drifted into the No. 5 position in federal earmark dollars per capita. The humiliation ended in fiscal 2010 -- ND nosed into the No. 2 position behind Hawaii. Always competitive, West Virginia was right there at No. 3. Minnesota has a few tricks to learn -- it was second from the bottom. Sen. Dorgan is a big part of this story -- after his retirement this year, it’s a new ball game for ND.
The earmark stats come from Taxpayers for Common Sense who are trying to shed more sunshine on the earmark process. They say their work reveals “a troubling pattern during difficult budget times. High levels of special interest spending remain.” Dorgan couldn’t disagree more, he sees earmarks as “wonderful investments in North Dakota’s future.”
The Northwest Area Water Supply project is near completion, but halted by a federal court injunction. The project draws water from the Missouri River for Minot and surrounding communities, but is opposed by the Canadian province of Manitoba, which is concerned about the transfer of aquatic life into the Hudson Bay Basin. For the same reason, Manitoba opposes transfers of water from the Missouri River and Devils Lake to the Red River. A Washington, D.C. judge has extended the injunction and required more environmental studies. Minot officials are frustrated by the possibility the project could be delayed another two years.
“We should go on record as not approving the grand theft of this fund” -- the thieves being referred to are the Jamestown City Council. The accusers are members of the Jamestown/Stutsman Development Corp. Board. Jamestown has a one percent sales tax dedicated to economic development. The JSDC Board contends the City Council has hijacked half of the tax. Jamestown has always seemed such a mild city -- a model of civic cooperation -- so why are its mayor, council and development board having a difficult time with each other?
DAKTOIDS: How sweet it is -- with the announcement that ND was the top honey producing state in 2009, the state was able to claim the No. 1 position in 12 ag commodities . . . The January unemployment rate in ND was about 4%, the nation's lowest; the rate in Michigan was about 14%, ten points more and the nation's highest . . . The Jamestown Sun asked its readers how they felt about ending Saturday mail delivery -- 59% said "fine by me."