Watford City voters approve sales tax for hospital, rec center

WATFORD CITY, N.D. – Voters in Watford City have overwhelmingly approved a 1.5 percent sales tax to finance a new recreation and events center, a new hospital and other community projects.

In complete but unofficial results, 364 Watford City voters, or 85 percent, said yes to the sales tax measure Tuesday and 63 voters, or 15 percent, opposed it.

The results mean the McKenzie County Healthcare Systems board can move forward with plans for a new hospital, clinic and nursing home.

The funds also would help finance a proposed $56 million indoor recreation facility and events center and support community needs such as airport projects and affordable housing for essential workers and seniors.

Hearing planned on gas plant near Watford City

WATFORD CITY, N.D. – The North Dakota Public Service commission will hold a public hearing next week about a proposed natural gas processing plant that would be built about 13 miles southwest of Watford City.

The hearing on a proposal from ONEOK Rockies Midstream is at 10 a.m. June 18 at Teddy’s Residential Suites, 113 9th Ave. S.E., Watford City.

ONEOK proposes to construct the Lonesome Creek Gas Processing Plant, with the capacity to process up to 200 million cubic feet of natural gas per day. Once processed, natural gas liquids, containing products such as propane, butane and natural gasoline, will be transferred to on-site storage tanks prior to being sold to a pipeline. Residue gas, primarily methane and ethane, will be transferred to the Northern Border Pipeline.

The company proposes to start construction by July 1 and have the plant operational by the end of 2015 at a cost of about $280 million. The plant will occupy about half of a 160-acre plot.

During the hearing, the PSC will hear from the company and then take comments from the public. Comments from the public must be received at the hearing to be part of the official record.

For more information, contact the PSC at (701) 328-2400 or www.psc.nd.gov.

 

Renovated school provides affordable housing for Williston seniors

Shirley Trogstad, pictured Friday, May 16, 2014, lives in her former study hall room in Legacy at Central Place, the recently renovated historic junior high school in Williston, N.D. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

WILLISTON, N.D. – Shirley Trogstad’s new home is her former junior high study hall room.

The Williston woman is one of the first tenants of Lutheran Social Services Legacy Living at Central Place, the historic junior high school that was recently renovated into affordable senior apartments.

Lutheran Social Services Housing preserved the building to offer an affordable option for seniors facing escalating rent prices in the Oil Patch.

“I think it’s a blessing for our community,” said Trogstad, 73. “I hope there will be more of this kind of construction because of the need for it.”

The 44-unit complex has about eight to 10 units still available, said Lisa Richmond, community outreach coordinator with Lutheran Social Services Housing.

One factor causing a delay in filling the units is what Richmond calls “the Williston phenomenon.”

“No matter how much you tell them, they do not believe we still have apartments still available,” Richmond said. “They’ve been so used to this story of there being nothing available.”

Trogstad most recently lived in Williston Senior Apartments after the rent on her house increased more than she could afford.

The one- and two-bedroom Central Place apartments rent for $330, $653 and $783 per month, including utilities, for tenants who meet income requirements. The $330 apartments are full.

For at least 30 years, the rental prices may increase slightly as operating expenses go up, but tenants won’t see their rents suddenly double as other Williston seniors have recently experienced, Richmond said.

The apartment complex, designed by Fargo-Moorhead based Michael J. Burns Architecture, preserves historic features of the building, which was constructed in 1931 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The former gymnasium is being renovated into a room for dining and special events.

Trogstad recognizes the original wood flooring from her former study hall in the hallway outside her new apartment.

“I’ve got fond memories of being in this building,” said Trogstad, who graduated from high school in 1959.

Trogstad especially likes the large, multi-paned windows in her corner apartment.

“It’s so spacious looking,” Trogstad said. “I have more pep being in this building because of the sunshine mainly, I think.”

The $10.6 million redevelopment was supported by federal, state and local government funding. The primary type of funding, tax credit financing, requires a longer process for applicants to get approved, Richmond said.

But once tenants qualify, they will not have to move out of the complex if their income increases in the future, Richmond said.

For more information, contact (701) 271-3207, housing@lssnd.org, or stop by the Lutheran Social Services Williston Program Center at 603 Main St.

Voters in Williston, Watford City asked to fund major projects

WILLISTON, N.D. – Residents of two rapidly growing Oil Patch cities will vote Tuesday on using local tax dollars for major projects.

The Williston Public School District proposes a $34 million bond issue to finance a new high school to accommodate the district’s growth.

A new high school would allow the current high school and middle school to be renovated to house grades 5-8, which would relieve crowding at Williston’s elementary schools, district officials say.

More than 700 Williston students attended class last year in 54 portable classrooms, and the district is projected to grow by another 1,300 students in the next five years. The total cost of a new high school and other improvements is estimated to be $56.5 million.

In Watford City, voters will be asked to approve a 1.5 percent sales tax to finance a new recreation and events center, a new hospital and other community projects.

The city already has a 1 percent sales tax, known as the Roughrider Fund, which is set to expire this year. Voters will decide on continuing the 1 percent tax and adding an additional half-cent to support major projects.

If approved, the McKenzie County Health Systems board can move forward with plans for a new hospital, clinic and nursing home.

The funds also would help finance a proposed $56 million indoor recreation facility and events center, aimed at improving the quality of life in Watford City to attract and retain workers and families.

In addition, the sales tax dollars would support community needs such airport projects and affordable housing for essential workers and seniors.

“It’s very important for our future,” Watford City Mayor Brent Sanford said.

Among the other races on the ballot Tuesday, Williston has a hotly contested mayor’s race to succeed Ward Koeser, who is retiring after 20 years.

City Commissioner and business owner Howard Klug is running against entrepreneur Marcus Jundt, who moved to Williston to open restaurants, and archaeologist Jim Purkey, whose family moved to North Dakota after job layoffs.

Law enforcement says they lack federal resources to deal with boom

MINOT, N.D. – North Dakota’s economic boom has made the state a target for criminal activity, but federal law enforcement agencies don’t have enough staff to be a deterrent, U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp said Friday.

Heitkamp, D-N.D., invited U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, to North Dakota to discuss border security and challenges facing law enforcement.

During a roundtable meeting Friday, law enforcement officers said they are investigating more complex cases, seizing greater amounts of drugs and more weapons connected with those drug cases. But those at the roundtable said they’re not getting assistance from the Drug Enforcement Agency.

“Where is DEA in the state of North Dakota? Where are they in the western half?” asked Ward County Sheriff Steve Kukowski. “They’re invisible.”

Paul Ward, U.S. marshal for North Dakota, said he would like to be more proactive, such as expanding the High Plains Fugitive Task Force that currently operates in the eastern part of the state. But he doesn’t have enough deputies.

“It always seems to come down to staffing,” Ward said.

The U.S. Border Patrol struggles to recruit and retain workers to patrol North Dakota’s border with Canada, largely due to the lack of housing and high cost of living in the Oil Patch, said Robert Danley, patrol agent in charge.

Heitkamp said she is having a three-month dialog with the director of the Office of Personnel Management, Katherine Archuleta, to discuss the federal workforce challenges in North Dakota.

“We need these federal employees in our jurisdiction in North Dakota, but the salaries, and the cost of living and the recruitment has been really, really difficult,” Heitkamp said.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has increased its staffing in North Dakota and now has 14 agents and one supervisor. The agency announced this week it is adding a second supervisor to focus on the western half of the state, said John Dalziel, the FBI’s supervisory senior resident agent in North Dakota.

Dalziel said he hopes the FBI will add four more agents in Williston soon.

Heitkamp said North Dakota also needs more staff from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the DEA, and other agencies, particularly because the federal agencies have primary jurisdiction for crimes that occur on Indian reservations.

“When you look at what this economy is contributing to the federal economy, that comes with a cost for increased federal services,” Heitkamp said.

Minot Police Chief Jason Olson said he was disappointed that the state did not increase staffing for the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation in Minot during the last legislative session.

Carper, who also took a helicopter tour Friday of some of North Dakota’s border with Canada, said the law enforcement representatives painted a “grim picture.”

“To hear all of this, it is disturbing, it certainly is illuminating,” Carper said.

Carper pointed out the federal government’s deficit and encouraged agencies to reach out to oil companies to see if they would get involved and contribute resources.

Dalziel said the law enforcement agencies in North Dakota have strong partnerships, allowing them to do more with less.

“It’s not grim here,” Dalziel said. “We’ve identified the problem and we will move smartly forward through it.”

Carper also planned to learn more about North Dakota’s energy production while visiting the state and is expected to participate in a discussion in Williston on Saturday on mail delivery issues in the Bakken.

Lightning strike, explosion cause release of saltwater

WILLISTON, N.D. – A lightning strike early Sunday caused an explosion, fire and release from a saltwater disposal site about 12 miles northwest of Williston, the North Dakota Department of Health said Tuesday.

The incident destroyed the site, which is owned by Oasis Petroleum, the department said.

About 1,200 barrels, or 50,400 gallons, of saltwater, a byproduct of oil production, and one or more barrels of residual crude oil were released as a result of the incident, the Health Department said.

About 995 barrels, or 41,790 gallons, have been recovered.

Health Department inspectors and the North Dakota Industrial Commission, Oil and Gas Division, are on scene and working with Oasis on sampling and remediation. Initial screening indicated that no saltwater reached a nearby intermittent stream, the Health Department said.

Faces of the Boom: In McKenzie County, emergencies require double duty

McKenzie County emergency managers Karolin Rockvoy, left, and Jerry Samuelson, right, tour the tornado damage near Watford City, N.D., on Friday, May 30, 2014, with Homeland Security Division Director Greg Wilz. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

WATFORD CITY, N.D. – In her first three weeks on the job, the new McKenzie County emergency manager visited the National Weather Service, held a Skywarn training course and met with the Red Cross.

Karolin Rockvoy didn’t expect to apply what she learned so quickly, until an EF2 tornado struck an RV park south of Watford City last week.

“Then we put it all to work,” Rockvoy said.

McKenzie County recently expanded its emergency management and veteran services offices to two people. Jerry Samuelson, who has held those duties for 17 years, said the need to add more staff was primarily driven by oil-related incidents.

“When all the oil activity came in, we were running around with all the spills. We’ve had oil well blowouts,” Samuelson said. “That became a job all in itself.”

In addition, the emergency managers assist the sheriff and police departments, five rural fire departments and two ambulance services in the county, all of which have seen dramatic increases in calls for service.

While most North Dakota counties of comparable size have a half-time emergency manager, McKenzie County – where the state’s oil activity is most heavily concentrated – needs two people to handle it all, Samuelson said.

In addition, demand for veteran services has increased with the influx of new residents.

McKenzie County used to have about 550 veterans before the oil activity began, Samuelson said. He now knows of two oil industry businesses in Watford City that employ about 90 veterans on their own.

On Memorial Day, Samuelson and Rockvoy had their veteran services hats on in anticipation of a community service. Rockvoy didn’t like the look of the clouds, so she started calling the National Weather Service and they began the ceremony 20 minutes early.

They then had to switch gears and go into emergency management mode, when a tornado touched down and emergency responders raced to the scene.

Days after the storm, the two were already talking about changes the county needs to consider to require housing camps to have shelters and emergency plans.

“We have the next 30 to 90 days to educate people,” Rockvoy said. “We have a lot of RVs around here. I think we can use this as an educational thing.”

Samuelson said he used to be primarily concerned with the need for winter storm shelters for the out-of-state workers and families who live in RVs and temporary housing year-round. The tornado highlights the need for summer storm shelters as well, he said.

“There are places they can go, but it’s few and far between,” Samuelson said.

Expanding siren systems is another need for the county, Samuelson said. Watford City has one siren, which he said has always been hard to hear, but now the city limits have expanded. Communities such as Arnegard and Alexander also have housing camps beyond their city limits that wouldn’t be able to hear the sirens, he said.

While their attention was focused last week on extreme weather, protecting the county’s water and environment from oil-related spills will continue to be a major priority. Rockvoy said she’s especially concerned about spills that companies don’t report.

“When they don’t report spills, you wonder how much they really clean them up, too,” Rockvoy said.

Health department responds to several spills

BISMARCK, N.D. – A vehicle accident, a cow rubbing against a valve and leaking pipe connections contributed to several unrelated oil and gas spills this week in western North Dakota, the Department of Health said Thursday.

On Monday, about 2 gallons of crude oil and 100 gallons of diesel fuel were released as a result of a vehicle accident. The driver of a tractor-trailer owned by Triple C Services pulled over to the side of the road during heavy rain and hit a soft shoulder. The trailer and the tractor slid off the road, spilling liquids into a slough. A response team was called to work on the site.

On Tuesday, about 20 barrels, or 840 gallons, of natural gas condensate were released near Sully Creek, a tributary of the Little Missouri River. A cow is suspected of having rubbed against a valve on a storage tank at a site owned by OneOK Rockies Midstream and the valve was accidentally opened. Cleanup of the area has begun and containment booms have been put in place as a precaution.

Two other spills that occurred Tuesday involved produced water, also known as brine, a byproduct of oil production.

In one incident, a valve or piping connection leaked about 200 barrels, or 8,400 gallons, of brine from a Crescent Point Energy well two miles west of Wildrose in Williams County. The spill affected cultivated land. About 80 barrels, or 3,360 gallons, have been recovered.

The second brine spill occurred at a well site owned by Samson Resources Co. six miles southwest of Crosby in Divide County. A leak in a valve or piping connection caused brine to spray. About 410 barrels, or 17,220 gallons, were contained on the site and 15 barrels, or 630 gallons, escaped onto cultivated land.

In both of the brine spills, the impacted soil will be removed to a licensed disposal facility.

Health department inspectors are monitoring the cleanup efforts.

Tour gives higher ed officials a glimpse of oil industry careers

Hess drilling consultant David Gjovig, right, gives a tour of a drilling rig on Wednesday, May 28, 2014, near Tioga, N.D., to North Dakota University System Chancellor Larry Skogen, from left, Dickinson State University communications director Mark Billings, system communications director Linda Donlin and board vice chairman Terry Hjelmstad. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

TIOGA, N.D. – North Dakota’s higher education leaders got a peek into the oil and gas industry Wednesday to better understand how to prepare workers.

Oilfield geologist Kathy Neset of Tioga, who also serves on the state Board of Higher Education, invited board members, university system staff and campus presidents to tour several oilfield locations. Hess Corp. led the group on a tour of a drilling rig, the Tioga Gas Plant and the Tioga Rail Terminal.

“As North Dakota educators, they can see firsthand what industry needs and how we can link the two together,” Neset said.

Steve McNally, general manager for the company’s North Dakota operations, said Hess has 80 job openings in the Bakken right now.

“You name it, we need it,” McNally said.

In particular, the industry is looking for workers who can collaborate with others and work together to solve problems, McNally said.

“We need all the engineers you can handle,” Ken Goebel, a chemical engineer who manages the gas plant, told the educators.

North Dakota University System leaders want to better understand the oil and gas industry so they can be more responsive, said Chancellor Larry Skogen.

“Higher education is absolutely vital to the development of this industry,” Skogen said.

Board member Grant Shaft of Grand Forks said the tour was an eye-opener for him.

“We just don’t know a lot about this,” Shaft said. “I wish there was a way to get more of the population, particularly kids, to see the types of things we saw today.”

Adam Sagaser, a North Dakota State University geology student who is in his third summer interning in the Bakken, said having industry experts speak in class can help students understand who types of job opportunities are out there.

D.C. Coston, president of Dickinson State University, said a recent survey showed that of the university’s graduates who stay in North Dakota, 23 percent work in the energy industry. It’s important for education to continue to work with industry to evolve its programs, Coston said.

The board, which typically meets at college campuses, will hold its meeting today at Neset Consulting Service in Tioga. They were spending Wednesday night at a Tioga crew camp.

Tornado raises concerns over camper preparedness

Stella Schlosser and her children Connor, 4, and Brenna, 12, take a break from cleaning up debris from the tornado on Tuesday, May 27, 2014, near Watford City, N.D. They live in an RV park adjacent to the one destroyed by the storm and took shelter from Monday’s storm under a neighbor’s concrete foundation. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

By Katherine Lymn and Amy Dalrymple

WATFORD CITY, N.D. — Stella Schlosser and her family of five didn’t have a plan for seeking shelter from a tornado in their RV near Watford City.

On Monday night, they didn’t have time to plan when her husband Kevin’s cellphone flashed a tornado warning as they were eating dinner.

“When we looked out that window, all you could see was (a) funnel,” said Schlosser, a mother of three. “It was here.”

Kevin directed the family to a structure next door to their camper that has a concrete foundation, and the family, barefoot, ran out and hunkered down beneath it. Schlosser was grateful Tuesday for her husband’s quick thinking.

“Looking around here, I wouldn’t know where to go,” Schlosser said. “I wouldn’t have a clue.”

 

Being prepared

The danger of being in an RV during a storm was on the minds of many Tuesday in the Oil Patch, where thousands live in campers, trailers and other types of temporary lodging as housing development lags behind population growth. Often, the camps are out in the country, out of range of emergency sirens or solid shelter.

Williams County Emergency Manager Mike Hallesy said the county, which includes the boomtown of Williston, has been reviewing the placement of emergency sirens within the city since it has grown.

But Hallesy said some responsibility also rests on the RV camps.

“It’s somewhat maybe inherent for the camp operators to look into safety notification equipment,” he said, adding the camps can invest in equipment and hook it into the county’s system so any countywide siren also is blared at the camp.

Dunn County’s seat, Manning, doesn’t have a siren because it’s an unincorporated city, said county Emergency Manager Denise Brew. She said she plans to approach the county commission about adding one.

When it comes to emergencies, for Brew, it’s all about having a plan.

She said it’s up to the park operator or the oil company that has housed them at a camp to have a plan in place for notification and evacuation of residents.

“They should be able to tell you, ‘OK if you’re near the city of Killdeer, here’s where you should go and work that out and just go from there,’” she said.

John Paul Martin, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Bismarck, advises people to be aware of the potential for bad weather. When a watch is issued, it’s time to seek a permanent shelter, he said.

“The best answer is that everyone have a storm shelter,” Martin said. “But that’s not feasible.”

Liz Leitheiser of Montana lives in an extended-stay motel under construction adjacent to where the tornado struck Monday. She, her grandson and neighbors took shelter in the building’s crawl space Monday night. On Tuesday, she was telling her neighbors who live in RVs about the crawl space for future storms.

“Last night taught me something,” Leitheiser said.

 

Little warning

Martin said even waiting until the warning is issued can prove to be too late.

But in the case of Monday’s tornado, residents didn’t have warning.

Severe thunderstorm warnings had been issued since about 4 p.m. for a storm that started in the Sidney, Mont., area, Martin said.

The first indication officials received of a tornado was a call from the Watford City Police chief about a funnel cloud south of town. A spotter also reported a funnel cloud and a tornado warning was issued at 7:46 p.m., Martin said.

“The tornado was actually on top of them,” said Martin, as he and a team assessed the damage Tuesday. “For the folks here, there was basically no warning.”

The weather service advises people who live in mobile homes or campers to seek permanent shelter with friends and neighbors.

“The issue here is friends and neighbors are also in semi-permanent housing,” Martin said. “Where are they all going to go? I don’t think there’s an answer to that.”

Martin said another option is to seek shelter in a low-lying area. He heard from people who sought shelter in a ravine behind the affected park and were not hurt.

Juniper Campground at Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s North Unit was evacuated after earlier reports showed the tornado’s path might go through it. A ranger collected the eight groups of campers and brought them to the west edge of the park to Oxbow Overlook until it was safe to return, chief ranger Dean Wyckoff said. The groups ended up seeing heavy rain, high winds and hail.

At the park, rangers and campground hosts monitor weather in case an evacuation is needed. The restroom buildings can serve as shelters, Wyckoff said.

But with the NWS information received Monday night, “it was more prudent to get them away from that particular area,” he said.

The campground is about 10 miles southwest of where the tornado touched down.

“Especially if you’re out doing the camping thing … keep some kind of communication open so you know what possibly could be coming,” Brew said. “If not, look at the sky.”

 

‘A wakeup call’

Compounding the notification problem, smaller RV parks that settle in rural areas often aren’t registered with their county, causing headaches for emergency responders who try to find them.

“There are still many that are just popping up in the middle of nowhere that we do not know where they are, and so it makes it difficult for public safety to try to notify locations that don’t exist,” Hallesy said. “It brings up the whole ball of wax as to where are you, how do we get to you, what’s the nature of this call.”

Hallesy estimated as many as 6,000 people live in campers in Williams County.

That’s not including workforce housing, or “man camps,” which he said are a bit safer.

“I rate the risk assessment on mobile RVs much higher than I do a man camp because the man camps are anchored, they’re steel-structured units that are all bolted together, they’re big complexes,” he said, “where a camper on wheels, (they’re) typically are not securely anchored nor is the equipment meant to withstand any sort of severe weather.”

Dakotaland Lodging, which has manufactured housing for about 600 people, has its own emergency notification system for its camp outside Tioga, company President Alan Spencer said.

Other Dakotaland camps — in Alexander, Williston and Dickinson — are close enough to city sirens to be covered, but the rural Tioga camp’s necessitates a text or voice call alert that residents are automatically signed up for when they move in.

“Certainly they’re out by themselves,” Spencer said.

About 200 residents live in the Tioga camp, off U.S. Highway 2.

“Locations that don’t have sirens are at a huge disadvantage, and they’re in harm’s way,” Spencer said. “That’s why we’ve added the call systems.”

Dakotaland has arrangements for shelter in the case of severe weather — residents could go to the Catholic church, senior citizens center in Ray or to the high school and elementary schools in Tioga.

Sand Creek Estates, which has parks in Tioga and Williston, has similar arrangements — the Williston High School auditorium is available for the 238 residents at that park, for example, said Janie Kastrinos, a property manager with the company. Local television stations broadcast shelter sites alongside severe weather information, she said.

Management teams for the Dakotaland locations had a call Tuesday morning in light of Monday’s storm to review their emergency plans, Spencer said.

“This is a wakeup call for everybody to make sure we have a plan in place.”

 

 contributed to this report.