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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

SCHMID: LOOKING BACK FROM THE LEFT COAST - AUGUST 12, 2018

THROWING IN THE TOWEL  The R.D. Offutt Companies in Fargo have a long reach.  Among other businesses, they are the largest John Deere equipment dealer in the U.S, as well as the nation’s largest potato grower with over 50,000 acres of potatoes.  Offutt is the largest potato grower in Minnesota where it farms thousands of acres formerly owned by Potlatch as timber lands.  Offutt has an ongoing struggle with Minnesota’s Dept. of Natural Resources.  Last week, the company announced “The burdens of doing business in Minnesota outweigh its benefits” and “given the difficult regulatory environment . . . the company’s Potlatch land is for sale.”

HARD TO STAY AHEAD  Processing plants and pipelines in ND do not keep up with growing natural gas production.  The state produces 2.3 billion cubic feet a day (bcf/day), but is flaring 400 million cubic feet a day.  Six projects under construction will add nearly 1 bcf/day of processing capacity.  That will not be sufficient to handle state production expected to rise to 4 bcf/day.  Most of the plants are in Mckenzie County which leads the state in oil production and its wells produce the highest ratio of natural gas.

DAKOTA GASIFICATION COMPANY is the largest subsidiary of Basin Electric Power Cooperative in Bismarck, a wholesale electric generation and transmission cooperative with customers in nine states.  Losses at DGC’s coal gasification plant in Beulah threaten Basin’s financial condition.  DGC can’t compete with lower priced natural gas from the Bakken oil fields.  Basin’s credit ratings have been downgraded and 300 employees are taking buyouts as the cooperative attempts to stabilize its financial position.  Reading between the lines — the future of DGC is very bleak.

LAVISH SPENDING  “The campaign for a U.S. Senate seat could be the most expensive per vote cast in the nation’s history.” — Columnist Mike Jacobs discussing the relationship between money and this year’s U.S. Senate race in ND.  There’s both too much and too little money.  Too much in the sense it overwhelms the advertising capacity in the state; too little in the sense the Senate race draws money away from the House race.  With massive spending by both sides in the Senate race, Jacobs suspects the spending is self-cancelling, changes few minds and may be wasted. 

COLUMNIST LLOYD OMDAHL is usually the voice of moderation and reason.  But, he has either “gone off the rails,” or there is a massive Russian conspiracy to attack senate candidate Heidi Heitkamp and support the election of her opponent, Kevin Cramer.  While Omdahl asserts the conspiracy is fact, he does not provide hard evidence.  This story will be developing in the next few weeks.

GOOD TRY!  Stutsman County Sheriff Deputy Matt Thom made two key drug arrests on I-94 near Jamestown around the start of the year.  In each case, a vehicle driven by a St. Paul resident was pulled over for a minor traffic violation, discovering 200 pounds of marijuana in one case and 475 pounds in the other.  The charges in both cases were dismissed because the traffic stops appeared to be unjustified.  The drugs will be destroyed and the vehicles and cash may be forfeited.  Deputy Thom has resigned, although his overall work was well-regarded.

STUNNED HOMEOWNERS  A few years back, Minot lived off a high level of sales tax driven by the oil boom and Canadian visitors carrying a strong currency.  Those days are over, at least temporarily, and the chickens have come home to roost.  The city announced an 18.5 percent increase in city property tax as it increases reliance on property taxes to maintain city services.

STEALTH BRIDGE  In 2012,  Wylie Bice, a wealthy rancher, built a high quality, 300-foot steel bridge across the Little Missouri River to connect two of his ranches and save a 90-minute drive.  In her article in the Bismarck Tribune, Amy Dalrymple noted Bice had a permit from the U.S. Corps of Engineers.  Five years later, the Bureau of Land Management noticed the west end of the bridge was on BLM land — they had previously not known of the bridge.  Should they commence with fines and penalties, or find an amicable way of settling with the rancher?  Most hope it’s the latter.  The BLM has found Bice quite cooperative, however a BLM manager said, “But it’s complicated and has the potential to be a big deal. It’s a bridge across the Little Missouri River.”  The Little Missouri Scenic River Commission discussed the bridge at a meeting this week and wondered why two federal agencies didn’t talk to each other.

MUSLIMS BOTH SEEN AND HEARD  The nonprofit news outlet MinnPost estimates Minnesota has 150,000 Muslims.  This election season, 15 Muslim candidates are running for political positions in Minnesota, some as significant as state attorney general and the U.S. Congress.  The Muslim candidates tend to emphasize issues important to immigrant, refugee and minority groups.

NEED FOREIGN WORKERS  "People can say what they want about immigration.  Very few Americans are going to move to Lankin, North Dakota (western Walsh County), for opportunities there.” — A farmer who contends that students and retirees are no longer available for seasonal ag work.  Farmers rely on H-2A visas (ag workers) for seasonal employees.  In 2018, Job Service ND expects to receive 550 applications for a total of 1,700 workers.  Beekeeping, where ND leads the nation, is an example of an ag sector needing seasonal workers with special skills.  Farmers contend the visa program is essential, but is a bureaucratic nightmare needing reform.

SAD SUNDAY PAPERS  Maybe, it’s just the slow month of August, but I suspect the sad state of the Forum’s four Sunday ND papers is part of an effort to trim cost.  We used to look forward to a fat Sunday paper with special articles.  Last Sunday, there was just a handful of local news articles shared by the four papers and the rest was carry forward articles and national news.  Editorial material was also slim.  The Bismarck Tribune seems to be make a greater Sunday effort — the article by Amy Dalrymple referenced above was in their Sunday paper.

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