Home Contact Register Subscribe to the Beacon Login

Monday, January 08, 2018



The protests were last year’s big story, but their long tails dragged through 2017. Over 300 pipeline-related criminal cases remain open. Some defendants are pleading a “necessity defense,” that is, circumstances justified criminal behavior. They are not the only losers -- the Standing Rock Sioux were left in a $6 million hole and have strained relations with the rest of the state. Standing Rock Chairman Dave Archambault, temporarily a hero, lost reelection. The DAPL was completed and about 80 percent of the state’s oil production now leaves by pipeline. State taxpayers were out $10 million in costs related to the protests, but will recover ten times that amount each year in pipeline taxes.


Gov. Doug Burgum’s challenges came early and big. First, he had to cut a $6 billion budget down to $4.3 billion -- necessary, but not popular. Next, he faced the DAPL protests. He considers a relatively peaceful resolution his greatest achievement. Burgum says the average citizen doesn’t realize how close we were to a Ruby Ridge or Wounded Knee -- the protests could have become a blemish on the state. Hoping to make state government more efficient, Burgum replaced several members of his cabinet with business executives. Currently, the state’s Higher Education system (see below) is one of his main priorities.


A consensus is forming that the state’s university system is overbuilt and poorly governed. Gov. Burgum and UND President Mark Kennedy warned that technology will bring disruptive change in the form of online learning and all of the state’s 11 public campuses may not be needed. Columnist Mike Jacobs observed that the Legislature is suspicious, if not hostile, toward the university system. Near the end of the year, Burgum appointed a 14-person Higher Education Task Force to address the issues.


The ND economy largely depends on ag and oil. There was hope at the beginning of 2017 that the prior year was a floor. Those hopes were only half realized. The ag economy continued to face low prices and was aggravated by serious drought in the western part of the state. Land and equipment prices reflected a weak outlook. One of the state’s largest farms, McM Inc., became the state’s largest bankruptcy with $64 million of debt -- secured creditors received 14 cents on the dollar, unsecured creditors and employees received nothing.

Oil was a different story, prices made bumpy progress and at year-end the state reached near-record production. Competitiveness of the Oil Patch improved measurably because of the Dakota Access Pipeline. In the second half of the year, the overall economy, as defined by taxable sales, began to improve.


ND Resettlements North Dakota has been first in the nation for refugee resettlements as a percent of population. The year saw intense debate about the costs and benefits of refugees -- they begin with federal assistance, but soon rely on local welfare systems -- refugees are estimated to use 7 percent of the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Proposed state legislation regarding refugees died, in part, because resettlements dipped as Somalis struggled to gain entry to the U.S.

The Minneapolis Underground Railroad This describes a system that takes hundreds, mainly Somali, from Minneapolis 400 miles to spots in North Dakota and Minnesota near the Canadian border. From there the refugees walk to Canadian border crossings seeking asylum. In the extreme northwest corner of Minnesota, adjoining North Dakota and Canada, an estimated 1,000 refugees crossed during 2017. The majority overstayed visas, were in the U.S. illegally and believed they would be denied refugee status. Canadians began to fear the influx and resent its costs.


The Three Affiliated Tribes at Ft. Berthold are the envy of the state’s three other relatively poor reservations. The TAT receive over $150 million a year in oil taxes, yet want more. They are threatening to go around a tax sharing agreement with the state and unilaterally impose additional taxes on oil companies. Oil industry leaders believe the taxes would discourage drilling on the reservation. The TAT imposed a new 7 percent tax on reservation alcohol sales on top of an existing 7 percent tax (7+7) -- the plan backfired and most alcohol purchases are being made off the reservation.


The state’s retail sector churned during the year. Historical stalwarts announced closings: Sears in Fargo and Minot; JCPenney in Dickinson, Jamestown and Wahpeton; and Macy’s in Grand Forks. Online retailing and several years of a weak economy precipitated the changes. Also, an unusual new contender entered the state -- in 2017 Dollar General opened 11 stores, had 8 under construction and promised 79 more -- nearly 100 in total. They build small stores in small towns; the stores are sometimes called “Little Walmarts.”


I-94 traffic stops regularly uncover illegal marijuana flowing from West Coast states to Minnesota and Illinois. The amounts are increasingly large and total street values are in the millions. A December stop in Jamestown netted 200 pounds. ND law enforcement appears to becoming especially attentive to eastbound vehicles with out of state plates.


Early in the oil boom, Minot was a star. It had the infrastructure and services needed in the Oil Patch and investors loved it. As the boom matured, Williston and Watford City caught up and Minot property values dropped. The city’s expenses outpaced it revenues and debt soared. The city manager said “we have been kidding ourselves” as he announced a 30 percent increase in property taxes.


“If Carson Wendt can do it, Miss North Dakota can become Miss America.” -- Cara Mund prior to becoming Miss America 2017. Wendt, of course, is the ND football star who quickly became starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles. Prior to an injury in December, he was a candidate for the NFL’s Most Valuable Player. Wentz graduated from Bismarck’s Century High School in 2011 and Mund in 2012.


This is a $3 billion project to build a 36-mile ditch west of Fargo to divert a flooding Red River around the city. Objections of the Minnesota Dept. of Natural Resources continue to delay the project and increase its cost. A Minnesota judge halted the project -- Gov. Burgum and Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton are attempting to untangle the mess.

Click here to email your elected representatives.


No Comments Yet

Post a Comment


Upload Image    

Remember my personal information

Notify me of follow-up comments?