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Measure 5 opponents rally new support

Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown officially joined the list of opponents of Measure 5 on Wednesday during a press conference in Grand Forks. Measure 5 would dedicate 5 percent of North Dakota's oil extraction tax to a conservation fund for the next 2...

Mike Brown


Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown officially joined the list of opponents of Measure 5 on Wednesday during a press conference in Grand Forks.

Measure 5 would dedicate 5 percent of North Dakota’s oil extraction tax to a conservation fund for the next 25 years. According to state revenue forecasts, that would amount to more than $300 million by the end of the 2015-17 budget.

Brown was among a panel of local business, government and legislative leaders to outline their reasons for opposing the measure as part of a new coalition called Decision Makers for Common Sense Conservation.

The new coalition includes 101 legislators, 26 mayors, every one of North Dakota’s 53 counties and 300 cities, the opponents said.


Joining Brown at the event, organized by North Dakotans for Common Sense Conservation, were Rep. Mark Owens, R-Grand Forks; Grand Forks County Commissioner Gary Malm; and Barry Wilfahrt, president and CEO of The Chamber Grand Forks-East Grand Forks.

Also attending on behalf of the opposition was Dan Wogsland, executive director of the North Dakota Grain Growers.

In opposing Measure 5, Brown cited a familiar concern that the amendment would hamper the ability of communities to obtain funding for infrastructure needs as they arise because $300 million would be dedicated to conservation every two years instead of going into the state’s General Fund.

“This would negatively impact our local communities,” Brown said. “North Dakota can address the needs of our local communities and our needs for conservation as long as the state has the flexibility to adapt as those needs change.”

As an example, Brown referred to a state and local partnership within the Grand Forks Greenway that helped establish a boathouse where canoes, kayaks and paddleboards can be rented on the Red River.

As the Herald reported in June, a $24,000 grant from the state helped fund most of the boathouse’s costs for local group Ground Up Adventures.

“So as you can see, the existing tools for the state are working just fine for this kind of project,” Brown said. “We appreciate the governor’s support and the state partnership on local conservation projects like this.”

Potential loss of property tax and other revenues is also a concern among opponents, said Gary Malm, Grand Forks County commissioner.


“We have to deal with the state Legislature to get our money, and then the state Legislature tells us how much we can ask taxpayers to pay,” Malm said. “If there’s no money there, you know who’s really going to be on the short end of the stick, and we truly believe that.”

Malm said he supports conservation “100 percent,” but the Legislature should make those decisions based on input from constituents.

Measure 5, Malm said, is a “great issue for single-issue people.”

Owens, a Republican legislator from District 17, said North Dakota city, county and state leaders have learned from the mistakes of previous oil booms to manage the unprecedented growth that’s occurring.

“But these out-of-state interests are not aware of these lessons and frankly, just don’t care,” Owens said. “If they can convince you to vote for this measure, they know they’ll get their money first and foremost above everyone else.”

Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever, which have 7,400 and 4,100 members in North Dakota, respectively, are among the out-of-state proponents of Measure 5, which is also supported by more than 225 businesses, tribes, sportsmen’s clubs and individuals.

“They’re all good organizations but this is not the right way to do it,” Brown said.

Wogsland said the American Petroleum Institute in Washington, D.C., is a big supporter of the Measure 5 opposition and has put some “major money” into advertising against the measure.


In a news release issued after the press conference, Jon Godfread, chairman of North Dakotans for Common Sense Conservation, said the response from “decision makers” across the state is exciting.

The group held similar press conferences Wednesday in Bismarck, Minot and Fargo, where Mayor Dennis Walaker also joined the opponents of Measure 5.

“We’re already one of the largest coalitions that has taken a stance on a political issue like this,” Godfread said in a statement. “It’s great to have so many decision-makers taking a stance against Measure 5 because we’ve been saying from the beginning that this measure would have a major impact on funding. We’re obviously not the only ones concerned about that.”

  •   On the Web: NDCommonSenseConservation.com.

Patrick Springer of Forum News Service contributed to this report.


Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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