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N.D. LEGISLATURE IN BRIEF: Watered-down wind lease bill OK'd

Watered-down N.D. wind lease bill OK'd BISMARCK -- A watered-down version of a law meant to protect landowners from being taken advantage of in signing wind tower easements got final passage Thursday. The House passed House Bill 1509 on Wednesday...

Watered-down N.D. wind lease bill OK'd

BISMARCK -- A watered-down version of a law meant to protect landowners from being taken advantage of in signing wind tower easements got final passage Thursday.

The House passed House Bill 1509 on Wednesday, and the Senate OK'd it Thursday.

Rep. Duane DeKrey, R-Pettibone, who wanted strong protections for landowners signing easements or leases with wind farm developers, said the final form of the bill was very weak.

"It may not be as strong as it was (earlier), but it is as strong as it is going to get and still pass," he said. It will require that easements can be confidential only if both parties agree, and only after the financial terms have been negotiated. The original bill barred confidential agreements.


Some wind energy companies had opposed the stronger bill.

Rep. Jon Nelson, R-Rugby, prime sponsor of the bill, was angry that it had been weakened, reminding the House that it originally passed the stronger bill by 91-0, that the Senate had also passed it in a strong form, "and then the $1,200 suits come walking in the door" to try to kill it during conference committee talks.

North Dakota had a chance to created the most protective law in the country and let it go, he said.

Rep. Mike Brandenburg, R-Edgeley, who opposed a strong bill, also argued against the watered-down version, saying it will prevent wind energy companies from developing here.

But another supporter of protection, Rep. Phil Mueller, D-Valley City, said, "It will do nothing, I mean nothing, to hinder development." It now serves only to alert landowners that they need to be careful before signing easements, he said.

The bill now needs the governor's signature.

Zoning bill done

A bill designed to decrease the number of disputes between rural property owners and city zoning laws is done and on its way to the governor for final signature. The issue is known as extra-territorial zoning.


House Bill 1554 creates a way for cities and rural governments--whether townships or counties--to agree on zoning rules in some cases.

Cities of different sizes will still be able to extend their zoning rules beyond their borders, as they have been allowed to do since the 1970s.

Those under 5,000 population can extend zoning a half mile; a city between 5,000 and 25,000 can extend its zoning one mile and a city of more than 25,000 can reach two miles, and have absolute jurisdiction in those areas.

Under HB1554, the cities can reach further -- to one mile, two miles or four miles -- but in that "outer ring," they must share jurisdiction with the rural government for that area. Disputes would go to mediators.

Road spending

The Department of Transportation's new $1.35 billion budget bill should provide immediate help for strapped local governments as they struggle to repair flood-damaged roads and culverts, North Dakota House members said.

Representatives voted 91-0 on Thursday to give the plan final legislative approval, sending it to Gov. John Hoeven's desk. It makes more than $200 million available to state and local highway officials shortly after the governor signs it.

It includes $176 million in federal stimulus spending for road construction, and a $43 million pool of grants that city, county and township governments may tap to recoup snowplowing costs, or to repair roads washed out by flooding, said Rep. Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood.


It also provides money to help local governments pay their shares of federal disaster aid that is forthcoming for road repairs, Delzer said.

The legislation represents a 47 percent increase in current state spending on transportation, helped by an infusion of state general fund money that is normally spent on human services, education and other programs.

It shifts 25 percent of North Dakota's excise tax collections on motor vehicle sales over two years from the general fund to road spending. State road repair funds are normally supplied by fuel tax collections and motor vehicle registration fees. The legislation does not increase North Dakota's gasoline tax, which is 23 cents a gallon, or raise motor vehicle registration fees on cars and trucks.

The bill is SB2012.

Oil amendment

North Dakota voters may get a second try at establishing a constitutionally protected trust fund for oil tax collections, months after they walloped a proposal to set up another oil savings account.

Senators prepared today to vote on the trust fund amendment after it won decisive approval, 82-8, in the North Dakota House on Thursday. Should it get the Senate's endorsement, it would be listed as Measure 1 on the November 2010 ballot.

"I think everyone in North Dakota realizes that we need to do this with this finite, depletable resource," said Rep. Kim Koppelman, R-West Fargo. "We need to lock some of this money up (and) at the same time make earnings available for the future."


The proposed amendment would establish a new oil-tax "legacy fund" in the North Dakota Constitution. It would store 30 percent of the state's oil tax collections, and neither the fund's investment earnings nor its principal could be spent until July 2017.

After that, the Legislature could spend the fund's earnings, the proposal says. But lawmakers could not dip into its principal without a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate, and any principal withdrawals would be limited to 15 percent every two years.

The amendment, which is sponsored by Rep. Dave Weiler, R-Bismarck, was proposed after voters defeated a separate trust fund proposal last November. Critics of the earlier proposal said it locked up too much of the state's oil tax revenue and made it too difficult for the Legislature to spend the money.

The resolution is HCR3054.

Flood control

A state water projects budget includes money for flood-control projects and planning in the Red River Valley.

North Dakota's Senate approved the two-year budget of the state Water Commission on Thursday. It now moves into conference committee negotiations between the House and Senate. A six-member group of lawmakers will work out the budget's final details.

The bill provides $75 million over four years for a flood control project for Fargo's south side. Its total cost is estimated at $161 million. Construction is be finished by July 2012.


The Water Commission budget bill says the state money should be used only for buying land and construction on the Fargo project.

The measure has $500,000 to study long-term flood control options in the Red River Valley.

It includes $12 million in federal stimulus money to extend the Southwest Water Pipeline. The pipeline supplies water to communities in southwestern North Dakota.

The bill is HB1020.

Items from the road spending one to the end are from The Associated Press.

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