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$5.8M in Outdoor Heritage Fund requests approved; eligibility clarified for future grant rounds

BISMARCK – The first round of grants from North Dakota’s new Outdoor Heritage Fund will help pay for tree planting initiatives, support a state program that benefits fish and wildlife habitat and provide funding for a new park in Bismarck, among other projects.

The state Industrial Commission on Wednesday awarded 17 of the 18 grants recommended by the fund’s advisory board, for a total of nearly $5.85 million.

Members also voted to clarify which types of projects are eligible for the fund.

The only grant recommendation not approved was for $73,000 to help pay for six miles of new multi-use recreational trails at Little Missouri State Park. The commission agreed to delay action on that request so the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department could do more work on the project’s funding sources and bring it back during the next grant round.

This was the first of five grant rounds scheduled in 2013-2015 for the Outdoor Heritage Fund, which was created by the state Legislature last year and is limited to $30 million every two years from state oil and gas production tax revenue.

The advisory board considered 74 applications totaling more than $34 million in grant requests, but board chairman Wade Moser said not having enough money to fund every request wasn’t the issue.

“I think it was the fact that we wanted good, solid projects … and we were really looking for someone who was going to bring something to the table,” he said.

Several applications sought 100 percent funding for their projects while offering no matching funds, Moser said.

“They had no skin in the game. And on a lot of these that was the discussion” and reason for rejecting the request, he said, adding, “We’re thinking that that needs to be a part of it.”

Industrial Commission members agreed – to an extent. Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring cautioned against a rigid match requirement because some groups with no matching funds might have worthwhile projects.

As recommended by the advisory board, the commission approved several revisions to the fund’s grant application and budget forms, including one that specifies the board will “strongly favor” applications with a funding match.

Other revisions designed to clarify the fund’s legislative intent will inform applicants that projects aren’t eligible if they’re already completed or ongoing – except for phased projects – or if the applicant isn’t directly involved in the project.

Grants also won’t be awarded for staffing, feasibility studies, annual maintenance, paving projects for roads and parking lots, swimming pools, research and equipment such as tractors and snowmobiles.

The largest grant awarded Wednesday was for $1.9 million to help the state Game and Fish Department protect, conserve and enhance fish and wildlife habitat through its PLOTS (Private Land Open to Sportsmen) and Save Our Lakes programs.

“I think you’ve done very well here,” Gov. Jack Dalrymple, the commission’s chairman, told Moser.

Click for spreadsheet of approved projects

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.