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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

SCHMID - LOOKING BACK FROM THE LEFT COAST: NOVEMBER 20, 2011

What are the chances these days that a legislative body will smoothly settle an agenda of major items in record time?  In this age of gridlock -- not much chance.  But the ND Legislature did just that -- it came to Bismarck for a special session and in less than five days settled major issues including redistricting and a $539 million disaster package.


One of the matters handled by the special session was the repeal of pro-Fighting Sioux legislation passed last March.  You could hardly have two more different views of that process than those presented by editorials in the GF Herald and Fargo Forum.  Tom Dennis of the Herald saw the process as serving a healthy, useful purpose -- letting the issue play out and building broad agreement.  The Forum continues to view the process as a reckless embarrassment and deployed its full bag of negative labels.  For starters: “snarky pandering, cleverly vacuous, spitting into the wind, tilting at windmills, petulance, stubbornness, monumentally parochial and transparently juvenile.”  Phew!  Hope the Forum editorial staff feels better now.


Annie Hessinger, a UND student, told the Legislature that the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo were about more than athletics.  She said, "It's not just the hockey team or the athletic teams. All of the students here are Fighting Sioux."  Virg Foss, a retired Herald sports reporter, presented the sports fan view, “We will never have a better name, one that invokes such passion, one the fans love so much.”  He suggested, that after the loss of such an elegant name, it might be sufficient to be just “North Dakota.”   “There’s plenty of Lions, Tigers and Bears, oh my, and Mavericks, Badgers and Beavers running around the playing fields of college sports.”


We won’t overstate things -- UND is still a small school in bumpy transition to Division I sports, but there are some bright spots.  In early November, UND’s football team traveled to the Univ. of California Davis and came out a 14-7 winner.  The Herald reports the win was special for a couple of reasons.  “UND had never beaten UC Davis as a Division I FCS program.  It was the program’s first win in California as a Division I program and it also gave the Sioux a winning road record this season at 3-2.”  Earlier, UND played powerhouse Fresno State tough, leading at half time and losing narrowly.  The Sioux will play the Univ. of South Dakota for a conference championship.


Stereotypes can be inaccurate and unfair, but also amazingly persistent.  Fifty years ago the Phi Delta Theta, the oldest fraternity at UND, was seen somewhat as “Animal House,” a place for heavy drinking and crude behavior.  Recently, Grand Forks police raided the fraternity finding it involved in open drug usage and sale.  They arrested Spencer Martin Miller (19) who updated the old stereotype by claiming that most of the current residents were drug users.  Altogether, eight members of the fraternity, including the president, were arrested or cited.


"At this point, we're basically playing catch-up since the load has developed so quickly."  The Basin Electric Power executive was speaking about demand for electricity in the oil patch, but he could have been describing almost every infrastructure need in the oil patch.  Lauren Donovan of the Tribune reports Basin’s projections indicate that by 2025 oil patch power needs will increase to the extent of one-fourth of all power now produced in ND.  Basin is planning a 190-mile transmission line from a plant in Coal Country to the Williston area.  Montana-Dakota Utilities is planning a large natural gas-fired power plant north of Mandan -- it proposes a 24-mile pipeline to bring natural gas to the plant from a major pipeline south of Mandan.  These projects spell jobs, jobs, jobs.


“You can’t explain it.  You have to experience it.”  This was the superintendent of schools in Alexander (a town about 20 miles south of Williston) talking about the safety of roads and travel.  He said no one ever anticipated that 5,000 to 8,000 trucks a day would pass through Alexander.  The only relief in sight is a proposed expansion of U.S. Highway 85 to four-lanes.  Tom Dennis of the Herald calls the expansion of U.S. Highway 2 from Minot to Williston “among the bet-timed public works projects in the history of the state.”  He said the situation would be unimaginably worse if there were still only two lanes.


Go about 20 miles east of Alexander, still on Hwy 85, to Watford City and prepare to be surprised.  The following projects are underway: six 42-plexes, 24 twinhomes, 42 townhomes and a 77-bed motel.  The scramble of construction involves very little public planning and oversight.  This would be a lot of building in any ND town, but Watford City had only 1,750 residents in the 2010 census. 


Williston had 15,000 residents in the 2010 census, today it’s estimated to be 23,000, and estimates for the next five years range from 40,000 to 60,000.  Williston is expected to soon outgrow W. Fargo and become the state’s fifth-largest city.  Three years ago, Williston did not see this coming and downsized their hospital in anticipation of a dwindling and aging population.  In the three years since, urgent care and emergency room visits have doubled.  Williston’s Mercy Medical Center is experiencing a critical shortage of medical personnel and has a 40,000-square-foot outpatient facility under construction.


You’ve seen or had one of the huge women’s purses that have been in vogue the past few years.  They are temptingly large, and some women fill them with everything: wallets, cameras, cosmetics, IPods and jewelry.  Michelle Turnberg’s column is part of the SheSays section of the Fargo Forum -- she uses her column to turn her personal trauma into teachable moments.  She left her giant purse in her truck while she took a hike -- baddies broke the back window and took the plump purse which contained everything listed above and more.  Now, Michelle has these wise words for women: have a little purse with almost nothing in it, and keep it with you.


The North Dakota way!  Andrew Salus (30) attempted to holdup up a McDonald’s in Fargo -- two employees “french fried” him with hot cooking oil.  Andrew’s next stop was the hospital.


The Farm Bureau is ND’s second largest farm advocacy organization.  Its president Eric Aasmundstad is stepping down after 12 years on the job.  The real news is the reason: he is no longer a full-time farmer because Devils Lake swallowed most of his family’s farm.


A “Fortune” magazine article about Cargill highlights a Bottineau native.  Greg Page is a UND graduate and CEO of Cargill, the world’s largest company in the food production industry.


Do you know what are pulse crops?  I thought not -- they are beans, chickpeas, peas and lentils.  ND is a great place for these crops -- the state has 57 percent of the nation’s dried peas and 45 percent of lentils, plus the state has a special shipping advantage.  Shipping containers arrive in Minot with frack sand used in the oil industry -- the containers are available to take pulse crops out.  This type of “In” and “out” is vital to efficient trade.  United Pulse Trading, a global company, has purchased a pulse processing plant in Minot and plans to make it their North America processing center.

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