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Hoeven won't call special session

BISMARCK -- North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven will not call a special legislative session to address infrastructure in oil cities and counties. On Tuesday, four western North Dakota lawmakers called on Hoeven to convene a special session. The letter ...

BISMARCK -- North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven will not call a special legislative session to address infrastructure in oil cities and counties.

On Tuesday, four western North Dakota lawmakers called on Hoeven to convene a special session.

The letter stating the "needs in the west are at an emergency level" came from House Assistant Minority Leader Kenton Onstad, D-Parshall; Sen. John Warner, D-Ryder; Rep. Tom Conklin, D-Douglas; and Rep. Shirley Meyer, D-Dickinson.

Energy development is "dramatically impacting the condition of our roads and bridges," the legislators wrote in their letter to Hoeven. The west needs money now, not next year, they wrote.

Hoeven spokesman Don Canton said the North Dakota Association of Oil and Gas Producing Counties voted against the idea when it was brought to them last week.


"The fact is, they need more time to prepare for a session, and they acknowledge that," Canton said.

Jim Arthaud of Medora, a member of the association's executive committee, confirmed the group wants more time.

"We didn't think much good would come out of a special session before we have a needs assessment done," he said.

In the four legislators' letter to Hoeven, they say waiting six months for the next session and another four months for funding to increase "would do irreparable harm" to the western counties.

They suggest an emergency appropriation to the affected counties and townships, an adjustment to the formula for distribution to the impact counties, or a combination.

In response to Hoeven not calling a special session, Onstad said the current funding and its timeliness "does not and will not correct the destruction to our roads."

"I do not believe the governor and the leadership of the majority party truly understand the problem and are willing to make a real commitment," he said.

Canton said the new formula in place needs to be given a chance to work.


"That will increase funding to $165 million. Five years ago, it was $50 million," he said. "Now add to that another $50 million for royalties on federal lands, and the oil and gas producing counties will be getting about $210 million to help with infrastructure."

The governor understands the needs are ongoing and immediate, which is why he met with western North Dakota leaders this spring to see how to help, Canton said.

"We understand they have challenges. We're concerned, too, and we're working with them," he said.

On Tuesday, lawmakers from both parties accused the other of playing politics on the issue.

House Minority Leader Merle Boucher, D-Rolette, said it would be remiss on the part of the Legislature not to address critical infrastructure needs.

"To put it off just simply complicates the problem that much further," he said. "Sometimes we need to bite the bullet and do what's important. I am sad to see that politics and the majority party simply chooses not to act because maybe the idea has come from another source."

"We have an opportunity to address an issue before we have a major crisis," Boucher added. "I think we have a crisis. But why allow crisis to become a disaster?"

Senate Majority Leader Bob Stenehjem, R-Bismarck, does not favor a special session.


"You're never going to fund roads in any part of the state at the level those local jurisdictions want them funded," he said.

The Legislature dramatically increased funding to highways and roads, especially in the oil patch, during the last session, Stenehjem said.

He knows there is support for a four-lane highway on Highway 85. However, he said it's a federal highway, and supporters should talk to the state's congressional delegation to find out where money is to fund that highway.

Stenehjem said there are needs in western North Dakota but called the request for a special session "a political move."

Rep. Keith Kempenich, R-Bowman, also doesn't think there needs to be a special session. Legislators can do emergency bills at the beginning of the next session and get those through in time for the construction season next year, he said.

Senate Assistant Majority Leader Randy Christmann, R-Hazen, said prior special sessions were well-organized beforehand. There would need to be a plan put forth before a special session could occur that would include how much money has been spent so far and what the need is, he said.

Meyer, of Dickinson, said they could come up with a plan in less than a week.

"I just don't know what they're afraid of," she said. "If you don't understand the need for a special session, you have not been out in the western part of the state."


Even if more money was granted now, lining up contractors and workers to get the job done this year would be a tight timeline, said Sen. Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson.

"I would see that a lot of the revenue would not be used this construction season, and that we will address this during the next session," he said. "I think, in the big picture, they'll get the revenues they need to address those things next session."

The North Dakota Department of Transportation did not provide a response Tuesday when asked by Forum Communications if it would be possible to do more work in western North Dakota this year.

House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, said western North Dakota's infrastructure issues will be one of the key topics legislators deal with next session.

"It's not that we don't understand the problem," he said. "It's just that it should be handled the next legislative session."

Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Herald.

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