Remember the parable of the ant and the grasshopper? The ant worked hard laying up supplies for winter, while the grasshopper laughed and played the summer away. Then winter came and, well, you know what happened. While Minnesotans made fun of Nodaks, the little ND brothers and sisters were working hard. In 2010, ND’s per-capita income slipped past Minnesota; in 2011 the gap widened, ND per-capita income was $45,700, while Minnesota was $44,700. Both states were well above the national average of $41,700. In the past decade, ND personal income moved from 38th in the nation to ninth.
Development is exploding in the Oil Patch and almost everyone sees things they don’t like, but it is often hard to know what, if anything, can or should be done. It’s impossible for state and local government to foresee all problems, much less their remedies. The Little Missouri State Park is a good example. Most of us don’t know what or where it is -- a particularly scenic park straddling the Little Missouri River canyon about 20 miles north of Killdeer, near the point where the river enters Lake Sakakawea. Lynn Helms, Director of the Department of Mineral Resources, says major steps have been taken to protect the park from oil development, although the state’s hands are tied in many respects because only 20 percent of the land and 7 percent of the mineral resources within the 30,000 acre park are owned by the state.
State editorial writers joined the clamor about development in or near Little Mo park, although they too are unclear about solutions. Tom Dennis at the GF Herald wrung his hands at the urgency, mentioned the power of eminent domain, while noting the state’s reluctance to spend money to acquire parkland. Clay Jenkinson at the Tribune also sounded the alarm and talked of the need to legislate “rules of engagement” and “to draw the line.” Jenkinson tried to be moderate, but let some extreme thoughts slip out, for example, his rules of engagement would include taxing “the energy industry as much as we can.” He is advocating a theoretical maximum, rarely a good solution.
Forum publisher Bill Marcil Jr. decided to see the Oil Patch for himself. He definitely didn’t like what he saw: bad roads, poor planning and uncontrolled building. He too was vague: “We need to leave overly conservative roots behind and embrace the new prosperity. Our leaders must step up to the plate. Time is not on our side.”
The Tribune’s Lauren Donovan wrote about Dickinson’s House of Manna, a Salvation Army type center that helps new arrivals in the Oil Patch. The article featured desperate families looking for jobs in the oil economy and arriving in western ND without resources. House of Manna helps people until they get paychecks. With a little help, some get on their feet, but others fail for the same reasons that brought them to ND. That last group needs assistance getting home. Williston has a variation of the same problem -- its school district has 126 children who are homeless (living largely in vehicles).
Man camps remain one of the biggest controversies in western ND. An official says they are “way out of hand” and Williams and Mountrail, two key Oil Patch counties, have moratoriums. Before the halt, Williams approved 9,600 units. Some man camps are larger than many ND cities. Business interests see the moratoriums as bad policy which forces workers into unregulated, substandard housing. A reporter from the Jamestown Sun toured the Williston area and saw man camps which she described as “sort of liveable,” but others looked “like people warehouses, drab, soulless and dormlike beyond belief.”
Please don’t call it a man camp -- a 3,000-person facility proposed in Dickinson will be known as a crew camp. The facility will consist of four multistory buildings on 44 acres. The Texas developer says rooms will each be about 200 square feet with private baths. The buildings will look permanent, but will be steel, modular units that can be taken apart and used elsewhere. Accommodate International hopes to have the first phase up and running in this year’s fourth quarter -- the entire project will take two years.
The rules of supply and demand for labor don't seem to be working in the Oil Patch -- many jobs are unfilled and the unemployment rate stays unnaturally low. The "fedgazette," a newspaper of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve, reports there are barriers to the free flow of labor into the Oil Patch. The paper mentions three: First, low unemployment in eastern ND -- the most natural source of labor; secondly, a reputation for frigid winters, and; lastly, scarce and expensive housing.
The April issue of "fedgazette" has articles on both labor and housing in Oil Patch counties including excellent maps and graphics. The articles can be found at "minneapolisfed.org/publications." Look for "fedgazette" in the lefthand column.
Teri Finneman of the Forum fields questions about state government. She was asked about the Common Schools Trust Fund which gets revenues from state owned lands, makes investments, and uses the income for ND K-12 schools. She was asked how big could it get. Her answer: quite big! The fund currently has $1.9 billion and distributed $46 million to schools last year. Projections indicate the fund could grow to $17 billion in 25 years and make annual distributions of $600 million.
The open house at the Midland Continental Depot Transportation Museum (whew!) in Wimbledon will include a performance by the Jamestown Drum and Bugle Corps. What’s going on -- why does a town of 225 have a transportation museum? A little hint: the depot was once the home of Norma Egstrom, whose father was an agent for the Midland Continental Railroad. That’s not a enough hint, OK, Norma changed her name to Peggy Lee -- the rest is history. Lee, who died ten years ago, was among the first to receive ND’s Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award. Mary Beth Orn so idolized Peggy Lee she left $20,000 as seed money for restoring the depot.
The McClusky Canal is a 75-mile waterway to nowhere. It was constructed in the 1970s to carry Missouri River water to the Sheyenne River, which in turn could carry the water to the Red River near Fargo. The incomplete McClusky Canal does not connect to either the Sheyenne River or the New Rockford Canal, a nearby canal which also goes nowhere. The McClusky Canal has a unique characteristic -- it crosses the continental divide between the Gulf of Mexico and Hudson Bay (Canada). The canal was intended to irrigate up to 1 million acres. Some preliminary irrigation will begin on 3,500 acres near Turtle Lake, only about ten miles from Lake Sakakawea.
No soft drinks, no bathrooms, and often no attendants. Great Lakes Airlines keeps its planes small and its costs low in order to serve cities subsidized by federal Essential Air Services. The Wyoming based airline provides services in Devils Lake, Dickinson, Jamestown and Williston.