When North Dakotans head to the polls next week, they'll decide on whether to set aside a portion of the state's oil tax money for conservation, while also deciding on whether there should be a change in how these types of financial decisions can be made. Measure 4 would prohibit any petition-initiated constitutional amendments that make a direct appropriation of public funds for a specific purpose. Among those opposed is Dustin Gawrylow, managing director of the North Dakota Watchdog Network, who said it also could block out tax cuts and revenue reductions. "When it comes down to it," he said, "as much as the constitution shouldn't be used to appropriate money, the people should not be prohibited from restraining and restricting the money that the Legislature has available to appropriate itself." Supporters of Measure 4 say it would prevent groups from diverting state money for their special projects. If Measure 4 is approved, questions such as Measure 5 would not be allowed on future ballots. Measure 5 seeks to redirect 5 percent of the state's oil-extraction tax revenue to support wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation, estimated at about $150 million a year. Those opposed include the Greater North Dakota Chamber of Commerce. "Our concern with Measure 5," said Kevin Hullet, president of the Bismarck-Mandan chamber, "is that we put a piece into the constitution that does not allow the Legislature the ability to balance out the needs of the state: infrastructure and schools, police forces and even our social services." Those pushing for passage of Measure 5 include Randy Kreil, who was a wildlife division manager for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department prior to his retirement this summer. Kreil said every federal, state and local conservation program already has a waiting list because of a lack of funding. "In a state like North Dakota, where 95 percent of the state is privately owned, conservation must be done on private land," he added. "The only way you do that is to provide financial incentives for farmers who want to farm the best and conserve the rest. Measure 5 would allow them to do that." Kreil said every dollar spent through this funding would have the state's best interests in mind, since it would need the approval by a panel made up of the governor, attorney general and agriculture commissioner. Details on North Dakota ballot measures are online at vip.sos.nd.gov.
North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp spoke at the Red River Regional
Council's annual meeting at St. John's Parish Center in Grafton last
night. Heidkamp says the Regional Council is doing everything right. She says the issues facing the area today must be tackled as a region and not by separate communities. She says it's not enough for Grafton to have a conversation or Park River to have a conversation, but that it's important the region as a whole take on the challenges together. Heitkamp says housing is currently the biggest problem in North Dakota and not just out West. She says another big issue is day care. She says providing amenities such as childcare and facilities that will attract a younger workforce
are essential to growth in the region. Heitkamp sited Park River's plans of
building a sports complex as an example of how to attract younger families. In her closing remarks Heitkamp was optimistic that Northeast North Dakota would continue to grow. She said despite all the challenges, North Dakotan's know how to get done the things that need to be done. She told the crowded Parish Center to keep doing what they're doing. She said it fits perfectly with what she and fellow Senator John Hoeven are doing for rural development statewide. The event ran about two hours. Park River Mayor and Council Board President Dan Stenvold said it was the best turn out he'd
ever seen at their annual meeting.
The Red River Regional Council Board of Directors is inviting the public to attend the Council's annual meeting this evening at St. John's Parish Center in Grafton. The night starts with a social at 6 o'clock with the meeting to follow at 6:30. Tonight’s keynote speaker will be Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp. RRRC Executive Director Dawn Keely says Heitkamp will provide some state and national prospective as it relates to Northeast North Dakota. She says District 19 Senator Tom Campbell will follow Heitkamp with a legislative report. Keely says she'll introduce board members and staff tonight and present some of the agency highlights from 2013. She says in the last decade the region has seen 52 new businesses and created or retained over 1,000 jobs. She adds there's also been a lot of investment in the area over that time which will be discussed in more detail during the meeting. Tonight's emcee is Council Board president and Park River Mayor Dan Stenvold. Stensvold says they're delighted to provide an update on 2014 activities and present their 10-year project summary highligting the council's impact on the region. For those wanting more information on growth in the region there's an optional Census Office update at 4:30. Founded in 1972, The Red River Regional Council supports Grand Forks, Nelson, Pembina and Walsh Counties through a variety of services for both people and business
Chairman Daniel Elliott and Commissioner Ann Begeman of the Surface and Transportation Board responded to Congressman Kevin Cramer’s concerns about the Canadian government’s grain rail shipment performance mandates upon the Canadian National (CN) and Canadian Pacific (CP) Railroads. In March of this year Canada required CP and CN to deliver 500,000 metric tonnes of Canadian grain, on a weekly basis, less face daily fines. The delivery requirement was later increased to 536,250 tonnes this past August, with the mandates currently set to expire on November 29th. Cramer began communicating his concerns with the mandates to Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer and the Canadian Parliament shortly after their initial creation. On September 26th Cramer wrote to Ambassador Doer calling for the mandates to expire, requesting assistance from the Surface and Transportation Board, as well as U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. In separate letters, Chairman Elliott and Commissioner Begeman “appreciated” Cramer’s views regarding the performance mandates, with Commissioner Begeman indicating she will continue to follow the matter “closely." “The Canadian rail mandate constitutes a clear violation of the WTO principles of non-discrimination and fair trade. It confers an unfair advantage to Canadian producers, undermining free trade and competition within the United States and Canada. Notwithstanding the damage already caused to U.S. shippers, hopefully extra scrutiny by the STB will further compel the Canadian government to allow the mandates to expire next month,” said Cramer.
North Dakotans will vote on eight measures when they head to the polls next week, and among the most contentious of them is the first. Measure 1 would amend the state constitution, as supporters say, to protect the laws on abortion that already are on the books. Among those pushing for a "yes" vote is Tom Freier, executive director with the North Dakota Family Alliance. "This really gives the people of North Dakota a good opportunity to show their approval of measures that have been passed such as parental notification, disclosure efforts," Freier says. "All of those meaningful, common-sense type pieces of legislation are really in jeopardy if this measure is not passed." Leading the efforts for a vote of "no" is the group North Dakotans Against Measure 1. Spokeswoman Karla Rose Hanson says it's too vague and believes it could have far-reaching impacts in areas such as in-vitro fertilization and end-of-life care. "Measure 1 could require the government to insert itself into medical decisions at all stages of life, and this could impact a whole range of health-care decisions families usually make very privately," Hanson says. Measure 1 is just 19 words stating, "The inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected."
The Grafton Police Department says a blown tire eventually lead to an area power outage on Wednesday night. Grafton Police Chief Anthony Dumas says they received a call about 9:10 p.m that a vehicle had blown a tire before it lost control and veered into a power line pole between Grafton and Oakwood. He says alcohol was not a factor in the accident and no injuries were reported. Kevin Fee, Communications Specialist with Minnkota Power Cooperative says the vehicle struck the guy-wire on the 69 kV transmission pole which caused it to tip over. He says the accident actually caused two outages in the region. The initial pole impact caused Grafton Municipal Utilities customers to lose power for about an hour. Fee says the downed power line also caused one of Minnkota's breakers to blow. He says the blown breaker affected the Oakwood area for nearly 6 hours before power was fully restored.
Walsh County Commissioners yesterday approved County Emergency Manager Brent Nelson's request for money to upgrade the county's 911 system. Nelson told commissioners the estimate he received from Century Link put the cost of the upgrade at just over $10,947. He said the upgrade would give the county the ability to receive emergency text messages and record digital calls. Nelson hopes to have the new system in place by next year. He told commissioners that currently the county has a $773 monthly contract with Century Link to maintain the service. Nelson said after the upgrade that bill would be absorbed as part of Walsh County's contract with the Association of Counties. Commissioner Luther Meberg noted that with the loss of the contract, the new system would pay for itself within 12-14 months. The motion to approve was made by Allen Ruzicka and seconded by commissioner Jack Karas.
Gov. Jack Dalrymple told a large group of business leaders along with University of Mary students and faculty yesterday that North Dakota must continue to develop leaders to build on North Dakota’s growth and prosperity. Dalyrmple said the progress the state is making is truly remarkable, especially when you consider that most states continue to struggle from the effects of a sluggish national economy. Nevertheless he said, the state needs leaders to keep moving forward. North Dakota has one of the nation’s strongest economies and the nation’s lowest unemployment rate. Since 2000, North Dakota’s economy has averaged an annual growth rate of 9.2 percent compared to the national average of 3.9 percent. Since 2000, North Dakota has created 115,000 jobs and the state’s per-capita personal income has steadily risen from 38th in the nation to the sixth highest income level. The state has also reduced taxes by about $2.4 billion since 2009.
North Dakota Insurance Commissioner Adam Hamm is reminding North Dakotans the open enrollment period for Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage began on Oct. 15 and ends Dec. 7. Hamm say“Companies often make changes to the plans they offer, so I encourage Medicare beneficiaries to compare their Part D plans to be sure they’re enrolled in the one that’s best for them,” Grand Forks area residents are invited to attend a free enrollment event 9 a.m.–4 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 21 at the Guest House, 710 1st Ave. N, Grand Forks.
The Insurance Department’s State Health Insurance Counseling Program (SHIC) staff is traveling to seven cities around the state during the open enrollment period, offering free assistance in switching or enrolling in a Medicare prescription drug plan. If you will be attending an event and have been given a yellow drug retrieval card, please bring it to the event for expedited service. Consumers also need to bring a list of their medications, including dosages and frequency.
Eligible North Dakotans who are unable to attend a Part D enrollment event have two other options:
Call 2-1-1 by Nov. 21, 2014 from anywhere in North Dakota. Have your medication information ready. The top two or three plan choices will be mailed to beneficiaries.
Visit www.medicare.gov and enter your information in the Plan Finder tool. On the homepage, click the green button labeled “find health and drug plans.”
Speaking at the Great Plains & Empower ND Energy Conference in Bismarck this week, Gov. Jack Dalrymple encouraged the continued development of business ventures that add value to North Dakota’s abundant energy resources. Dalrymple said “We are making great advances in our energy industry by adding value to our resources right here in North Dakota." He said "North Dakota is a national powerhouse in energy production and we have taken important steps to convert our energy resources into products of greater value. Still there is much more opportunity ahead for us to take value-added energy to a whole new level.”
Dalrymple highlighted several value-added projects underway in North Dakota, including CHS Inc.’s plans to build a $3 billion processing plant that will convert natural gas to fertilizers; the Dakota Prairie Refinery which will convert crude oil into diesel fuel and plans announced Monday by Badlands NGL, LLC to build about a $4 billion processing facility that will convert ethane gas into polyethylene, which is used to make a wide variety of plastics. The governor specifically encouraged energy representatives attending the conference to continue developing projects that reduce flaring, add value to the state’s abundant supplies of natural gas and create jobs. North Dakota has developed a comprehensive energy policy that acknowledges the need for a diverse power supply, and empowers all energy sectors to work together in the interests of meeting the growing demand for affordable energy. North Dakota can also become a national leader in value-added energy, Dalrymple said.
Dalrymple, Sen. John Hoeven, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and Rep. Kevin Cramer hosted the 8th annual Great Plains & Empower ND Energy Conference which was held at Bismarck State College’s National Center of Excellence. The daylong conference included a panel discussion with Dalrymple and the state’s congressional delegation as well as presentations by leading energy researchers and developers. Speakers included Karen Alderman Harbert, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy, and Charles McConnell, executive director of Rice University’s Energy and Environment Initiative.