North Dakota governor requests COVID-19 disaster declaration

BISMARCK (AP) — Gov. Doug Burgum said Sunday he has requested a major presidential disaster declaration as the number of coronavirus cases in North Dakota approaches 100.
As of Sunday, the state reports 98 positive cases from state and private labs, up from 94 the previous day. One death from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, has been reported in North Dakota.
A disaster declaration by President Donald Trump would unlock federal aid to help North Dakota pay for its response to the pandemic, The Bismarck Tribune reported.
“Federal assistance is critical for our capability to expand North Dakota’s response to the rapidly evolving impacts of COVID-19,” Burgum said in the request dated Friday.
The request includes state modeling showing how widely the new virus could infect North Dakotans. Burgum wrote that 152,000 people could become infected over an 18-month period, including 22,000 who would require 14-day hospitalizations.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
Burgum wrote that if projections hold true, North Dakota’s existing health care facilities “will rapidly exhaust capacity.” He said that the state would need to establish makeshift care facilities.

Students serve up cappuccinos, mochas at school coffee shop

MANDAN (AP) — A minute after the bell rang at 9:05 a.m. on a recent Friday, a line had formed by the main entrance to Mandan High School.
One by one, students approached some of their peers, placing orders for hot chocolate, mochas and caramel macchiatos, to name a few of the drinks offered twice a month at the Braves Bean Coffee Shop.
The shop is run by students in the school’s work experience class, including sophomore Mckenzie Meuchel, who typically serves up Irish cream-flavored cappuccinos. The drinks, so far, have been a hit with students walking between classes.
“It seems like it,” she said. “It’s been popular with more students than staff at this point.”
About 13 students man the coffee shop through the work experience class, which is part of the school’s special education curriculum. The kids spend part of the school day working in the community at restaurants, gas stations, the library and other places, The Bismarck Tribune reported.
“It helps our students who are in special education work on their money skills, their social skills and their work skills,” teacher Becca Voorhees said.
The coffee shop started up in January. The students have been running it every other Friday from 9-10:30 a.m., but it’s in limbo now due to the statewide school closure ordered by North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Customers line up in front of the cash register, mulling over the menu and pulling out their wallets. The student workers relay their orders to classmates working behind the counter, who find the appropriate cups filled with hot chocolate mix or creamers and add either hot water or coffee to finish making the drink.
When each cup is ready to go, senior Brennan Davis calls out the name of the student who ordered the drink, hands it over, and tells the student to “have a nice day.”
“I love it,” he said. “I get to interact with other people I might not know around the school.”
As he took a break from his duties on a recent Friday, he said he would go to math class when the shop closed, then head to lunch. He planned to spend the afternoon at Mandan’s Pizza Ranch, where he buses tables, puts away dishes and folds boxes that store food during deliveries.
He sometimes works alongside a former work experience student who has held a job at the restaurant for six years. It’s a good environment in which to work, Davis said.
“If you have a question, they will help you out,” he said.
When the school year ends, Davis hopes to go to college, then a police academy.
Until then, he’ll continue handing out drinks at the high school. After spring break, the students plan to add iced coffee to the menu as the weather warms up.
The class purchases supplies online and through Sam’s Club, Voorhees said. The shop puts the money it makes back into purchasing more items for the next time it opens.
Eventually, Voorhees would like to include other students at the school in helping to run the coffee shop alongside those in her class.
“We see us doing it next year and having different equipment, carts, making it more of a coffee shop feel,” she said.

Judge orders environmental review of Dakota Access pipeline

FARGO (AP) — A federal judge on Wednesday ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a full environmental review of the Dakota Access pipeline, nearly three years after it began carrying oil despite protests by people who gathered in North Dakota for more than a year.
U.S. District Judge James Boasberg wrote that the easement approval for the pipeline remains “highly controversial” under federal environmental law, and a more extensive review is necessary than the environmental assessment that was done.
Standing Rock Chairman Mike Faith called it a “significant legal win” and said it’s humbling that the protests continue to “inspire national conversations” about the environment.
“Perhaps in the wake of this court ruling the federal government will begin to catch on, too, starting by actually listening to us when we voice our concerns,” Faith said in a statement.
Officials with the Corps and Energy Transfer, which owns the pipeline, did not immediately respond to phone messages left by The Associated Press. Craig Stevens, spokesman for the GAIN Coalition, a group that supports large infrastructure projects, said the decision could jeopardize the nation’s economic and energy security.
“This is a stunning decision that flies in the face of decades of widely accepted practice,” Stevens said in a statement. “The Dakota Access Pipeline is already the most studied, regulated, and litigated pipeline in the history of our country and has been safely operating for nearly three years.”
It’s not clear whether the ruling will shut down the pipeline. Boasberg ordered both parties to submit briefs on whether the pipeline should continue operating during the period of the new environmental review.
The pipeline was the subject of months of protests, sometimes violent, during its construction in late 2016 and early 2017 near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation that straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border. The Standing Rock tribe continued to press litigation against the pipeline even after it began carrying oil from North Dakota across several states to a shipping point in Illinois in June 2017.
The $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile (1,886 kilometer) underground pipeline crosses beneath the Missouri River, just north of the Standing Rock reservation. The tribe draws its water from the river and fears pollution. Texas-based Energy Transfer insisted the pipeline would be safe.
Permits for the project were originally rejected by the Obama administration, and the Corps prepared to conduct a full environmental review. In February 2017, shortly after Donald Trump took office, the Corps scrapped the review and granted permits for the project, concluding that running the pipeline under the Missouri River posed no significant environmental issues. The Corps said that opinion was validated after an additional year of reviewing the project, as ordered by the court.
Boasberg said during one of his many opinions on the case that the project “largely complied” with requirements for the National Environmental Policy Act, but left the door open for the tribes when he said there were “substantial exceptions” to meeting those rules. He ordered further review on the potential impact of the project.
The ruling issued Wednesday focused on whether “the project’s effects were likely to be highly controversial.” The judge cited concerns with the leak detection system, operator safety record, the impact of North Dakota winters and the analysis of a worst-case scenario for a spill.
Much of Boasberg’s ruling was based on a 2019 case decided by a Washington D.C. federal appeals court that considered whether agencies adequately dealt with expert criticisms such as those in the Dakota Access Pipeline case. Applying that case, Boasberg wrote that he “ultimately concludes that too many questions remain unanswered.”
Earthjustice attorney Jan Hasselman, who represents the Standing Rock Tribe, said the Obama administration “had it right” when it denied the permits and his group will continue to argue the case until the pipeline is shut down. He said because a full environmental review could take a year or two, it could be “potentially conducted under the next presidential administration.”
“This gives the Army Corps a new opportunity to get this right,” Hasselman said.

North Dakota reviving waivers that extend idle well duration

BISMARCK (AP) — North Dakota regulators are planning to revive a policy amid the coronavirus pandemic that allows oil producers to receive waivers so that a well can remain inactive for more than a year.
The state Oil and Gas Division will sort out details after state regulators on Tuesday directed them to resurrect the policy that was in place from 2015 to 2017. If a well has not generated any oil for one year, North Dakota usually requires companies to permanently plug it or otherwise resume the operation.
North Dakota Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms told the Industrial Commission that the policy would apply when the cost of West Texas Intermediate, a grade of oil deemed the U.S. pricing benchmark, drops under $50 per barrel. That price has stayed in the $20 to $30 range over the past week after plummeting from above $60 at the start of the year.
North Dakota oil is worth even less because it must be transported to market by pipeline or train, which costs several dollars per barrel.
“Today, a North Dakota Bakken producer is getting somewhere between $13 and $18 a barrel,” Helms said.
Helms said he expects more inactive wells in the months ahead as companies react to low oil prices. North Dakota recently bolstered guidelines surrounding abandoned wells in a move to prevent companies from evading their obligation to cap and clean up well sites, which would otherwise force the state to step in and potentially assume those costs.
From December to January, companies in North Dakota idled nearly 700 additional wells, according to the latest available state data. The number of wells drilled but not finished jumped by 66 to 1,024.
That happened before prices plunged substantially earlier this month after a Russia and OPEC alliance to curb oil production fell apart.
But prices were slowly falling even before the collapse as demand for oil dropped while the coronavirus spread, halting travel and business throughout the world, particularly in China.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.
The state Health Department on Tuesday confirmed four new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of positive cases in North Dakota to 36.

Favorable flood forecast gives relief to Fargo-Moorhead area

FARGO (AP) — While leaders in Fargo and Moorhead, Minnesota, have been taking steps to limit the coronavirus, it appears they won’t have to deal with a significant flood on top of the pandemic.
Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney said that a near-perfect snowmelt in the last couple of weeks and below-average precipitation has him breathing easier in a year when the Red River Valley received record moisture from September through February.
National Weather Service models are showing a crest between 34 and 35 feet, or about 17 feet above flood stage. Volunteers and employees filled about 220,000 sandbags earlier this month to handle a worst-case scenario of about 39 feet.
A 35-foot crest would shut down some bridges and roads, Mahoney said, but the metropolitan area “should be able to weather this quite nicely without having to put any sandbags out.” The sandbags will be available to residents in rural areas, where overland flooding remains a possibility.
National Weather Service meteorologist Greg Gust said spring weather can be fickle but the near-term weather forecast is favorable.
“It does look like we could dodge any really significant precipitation events through the coming week or two, so all is looking pretty good for now,” Gust said.

North Dakota juvenile court program looks to improve

BISMARCK (AP) — One year into a new North Dakota court program, collaborators say its areas of focus have become clearer for better serving youth and families involved in both the juvenile justice and child welfare systems and for reducing referrals to juvenile court.
North Dakota’s Dual Status Youth Initiative launched in January 2019. It was born from a yearlong study and recommendations in 2018 from the Robert F. Kennedy National Resource Center for Juvenile Justice to a group of state court, corrections and human services officials.
Last month, the initiative’s Executive Committee met to review a third-party evaluator’s critique of the program’s first six months, The Bismarck Tribune reported.
The evaluation said “North Dakota has been highly successful” in launching the initiative, with positive outcomes for youth, but noted there could be better compliance with some “programmatic” elements, such as improving counties’ consistency in holding interventional meetings with families.
By the numbers
A work group is set to form by May to address areas of significance from the evaluation, such as disproportionate involvement of Native American youth — a rate of 2.5 times their proportion of all North Dakota youth.
The initiative’s work group would aim to include members from law enforcement, schools and tribal social services, said Court Improvement Program Coordinator Heather Traynor and Dual Status Youth Coordinator Jennifer Skjod.
Collaborators of the initiative also plan to share its results with other groups, such as the Legislature’s interim Judiciary Committee, which is undertaking a study of North Dakota’s juvenile justice system, and the newly formed North Dakota Children’s Cabinet.
“We’re just really trying to find places where this could fit in,” Skjod said.
Data for a one-year review of the initiative will go to the evaluator next month.
The crucible for the initiative was a memorandum of understanding between North Dakota’s Supreme Court and Department of Human Services to securely share data related to children involved in both systems.
On average, 42% of youth referred to juvenile court each month are dual status youth, Traynor said.
The six-month report outlined 881 youth the initiative encountered in its first six months from March through August 2019, 340 of whom were involved in both systems and 541 of whom are involved in one system and have been with the other.
Traynor provided numbers after one year, from March 1, 2019, to Feb. 29, 2020: the program encountered 1,396 youth, 603 of whom were involved in juvenile court and child welfare and 793 of whom are involved in one system and have been with the other.
One common scenario of dual status youth is truancy combined with parental issues at home, Traynor said.
‘We have to keep an eye on that’
Key to the initiative is meetings with youth and their families to map out an interventional plan for their success, with a juvenile court officer, a child welfare worker and potentially other parties, such as school staff.
The meetings are mandatory for youth concurrently involved in both systems, but discretional for the other subset of youth.
A contracted counseling service is available in 16 North Dakota counties to facilitate “family-centered engagement meetings.”
“Multidisciplinary team meetings,” which are similar but lack the third-party facilitator, are available instead in other counties.
The six-month report noted compliance for holding these interventional meetings hasn’t been consistent, that after six months the meetings were held in less than half of the cases in which they are required — only as much as 47%.
North Dakota’s top juvenile corrections official sees progress in the first six months, such as positive feedback from families and good implementation in some regions around the state of the initiative’s practices.
But there’s more to do, Division of Juvenile Services Director Lisa Bjergaard said.
“We know that that report shows that less than 50% of the kids who should have this intervention are actually receiving it, and so some of that is because this is first six months’ data and it’s a new process,” Bjergaard said. “And I think in the second six months we can expect that the number of kids and families who are given the intervention should continue to improve, but I think we have to keep an eye on that.”
The Department of Human Services is overseeing a redesign of county social services into 19 mostly multicounty human service zones. The department’s vision is to make family centered engagement meetings available statewide, said Children and Family Services Division Wellbeing Administrator Diana Weber.
“We’re currently redesigning how we provide in-home case management services, and in doing that we’re looking at how FCE meetings could become part of the warm hand-off between child protection services and in-home case management,” Weber said.
The department has to look at which providers could offer the meetings and where, she added.
Goals
A big goal of the initiative is to reduce the overall referrals and subsequent referrals to juvenile court, Skjod said. She receives data on youth in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems to sort and then notify juvenile court officers and child welfare workers in counties.
“Sometimes we have kids that get up to 10 subsequent referrals in a year,” Skjod said. “If we can somehow show that the meetings and the different diversions that are being implemented are successful in helping these kids, maybe stop them after the second referral, maybe after the third referral … keep them from getting deeper and deeper.”
The six-month report noted that 80% of North Dakota youth in correctional custody are dual status youth. That’s another area of focus.
“If we can work with these kids to stop them from getting to that point, that would be ideal,” said Traynor, the Court Improvement Program coordinator.
Traynor said it will probably be two or three years before the initiative’s results could show a potential reduction in referrals to juvenile court. The one-year report is likely to show the effects of the 2019 Legislature raising the age of culpability from 7 to 10, she said. That change took effect Aug. 1, 2019.
Bjergaard said it’s important to provide the support and resources for court and child welfare services to continue the initiative’s work.
“I think it’s just so important that we really do all we can to be aspirational about this work and really shoot for the moon,” she said. “We have to be willing to try bold, new strategies to reduce the impact that deep-end systems have on kids and families.”

Dem-NPL virtual convention delegates endorse six

BISMARCK — Through virtual voting, the Democratic-NPL Party has endorsed six candidates for statewide office as well as several party positions, including national committeewoman and committeeman.
Ten days ago, the Dem-NPL announced the state party would cancel its in-person convention as part of the public health movement responding to the COVID-19 virus and pandemic. Shortly after, Dem-NPL leadership and staff transitioned to online events, such as virtual town halls, video addresses, social media engagement and other forms of digital campaigning.
Saturday’s endorsements were: Governor, Shelley Lenz, a Dickinson veterinarian; Congress, Zach Raknerud, a Minot retail manager; State Treasurer, Mark Haugen, University of Mary graduate adviser, Bismarck; State Auditor, Patrick Hart, small-business owner and contractor, former auditor for the N.D. Department of Agriculture and Public Service Commission, Bismarck; Public Service Commission, Casey Buchmann, Washburn, who had challenged Public Service Commissioners Brian Kroshus in 2018; and Insurance Commissioner, Travisia Martin, a traveling respiratory care practitioner.
An address from each candidate is available online at demnpl.com on the Convention Central page.
“The Dem-NPL is so proud to put forward a slate of candidates who are competent and talented and smart, and who are connected to their communities. They are excited to get to work for all of you representing this great state of North Dakota,” said Party Chairwoman Kylie Oversen.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp recorded an address for the event.
“Now more than ever it is crucial to be active and involved and willing to put the work in for our statewide and legislative candidates,” she said. “We can, in fact, turn this around. We can, in fact, be part of solutions for our country, but we have to work for it.”
Selected as representatives to the Democratic National Community were Reps. Ruth Buffalo and Josh Boschee, both D-Fargo.

North Dakota has 2 more COVID-19 positives; 30 cases total

BISMARCK (AP) — North Dakota officials reported two additional cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, bringing the state’s total to 30.
Four of those people are hospitalized, the Department of Health said.
The new cases are a woman in her 30s from Burleigh County who picked it up through travel and a man in his 40s from Pierce County who was in close contact with another case.
The state has had 1,325 negative tests.
For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover.

Senior meal providers seek alternate plans

BISMARCK – North Dakota senior nutrition service providers have cancelled dine-in meals to protect vulnerable individuals from the coronavirus. Providers will be offering alternatives such as take out, home delivered and frozen meal options. They will continue to provide home-delivered meals to current consumers.
Last federal fiscal year, 14,465 older adults in North Dakota dined at senior meal sites, and 4,809 others received home-delivered meals. Each meal provides one third of the required daily nutrition recommended for older adults, according to the North Dakota Department of Human Services.
To qualify for meals, individuals must be at least 60 years old. People should check with their local senior nutrition provider to find out what options are available in their local area.

North Dakota juvenile court program looks to improve

BISMARCK (AP) — One year into a new North Dakota court program, collaborators say its areas of focus have become clearer for better serving youth and families involved in both the juvenile justice and child welfare systems and for reducing referrals to juvenile court.
North Dakota’s Dual Status Youth Initiative launched in January 2019. It was born from a yearlong study and recommendations in 2018 from the Robert F. Kennedy National Resource Center for Juvenile Justice to a group of state court, corrections and human services officials.
Last month, the initiative’s Executive Committee met to review a third-party evaluator’s critique of the program’s first six months, The Bismarck Tribune reported.
The evaluation said “North Dakota has been highly successful” in launching the initiative, with positive outcomes for youth, but noted there could be better compliance with some “programmatic” elements, such as improving counties’ consistency in holding interventional meetings with families.
By the numbers
A work group is set to form by May to address areas of significance from the evaluation, such as disproportionate involvement of Native American youth — a rate of 2.5 times their proportion of all North Dakota youth.
The initiative’s work group would aim to include members from law enforcement, schools and tribal social services, said Court Improvement Program Coordinator Heather Traynor and Dual Status Youth Coordinator Jennifer Skjod.
Collaborators of the initiative also plan to share its results with other groups, such as the Legislature’s interim Judiciary Committee, which is undertaking a study of North Dakota’s juvenile justice system, and the newly formed North Dakota Children’s Cabinet.
“We’re just really trying to find places where this could fit in,” Skjod said.
Data for a one-year review of the initiative will go to the evaluator next month.
The crucible for the initiative was a memorandum of understanding between North Dakota’s Supreme Court and Department of Human Services to securely share data related to children involved in both systems.
On average, 42% of youth referred to juvenile court each month are dual status youth, Traynor said.
The six-month report outlined 881 youth the initiative encountered in its first six months from March through August 2019, 340 of whom were involved in both systems and 541 of whom are involved in one system and have been with the other.
Traynor provided numbers after one year, from March 1, 2019, to Feb. 29, 2020: the program encountered 1,396 youth, 603 of whom were involved in juvenile court and child welfare and 793 of whom are involved in one system and have been with the other.
One common scenario of dual status youth is truancy combined with parental issues at home, Traynor said.
‘We have to keep
an eye on that’
Key to the initiative is meetings with youth and their families to map out an interventional plan for their success, with a juvenile court officer, a child welfare worker and potentially other parties, such as school staff.
The meetings are mandatory for youth concurrently involved in both systems, but discretional for the other subset of youth.
A contracted counseling service is available in 16 North Dakota counties to facilitate “family-centered engagement meetings.”
“Multidisciplinary team meetings,” which are similar but lack the third-party facilitator, are available instead in other counties.
The six-month report noted compliance for holding these interventional meetings hasn’t been consistent, that after six months the meetings were held in less than half of the cases in which they are required — only as much as 47%.
North Dakota’s top juvenile corrections official sees progress in the first six months, such as positive feedback from families and good implementation in some regions around the state of the initiative’s practices.
But there’s more to do, Division of Juvenile Services Director Lisa Bjergaard said.
“We know that that report shows that less than 50% of the kids who should have this intervention are actually receiving it, and so some of that is because this is first six months’ data and it’s a new process,” Bjergaard said. “And I think in the second six months we can expect that the number of kids and families who are given the intervention should continue to improve, but I think we have to keep an eye on that.”
The Department of Human Services is overseeing a redesign of county social services into 19 mostly multicounty human service zones. The department’s vision is to make family centered engagement meetings available statewide, said Children and Family Services Division Wellbeing Administrator Diana Weber.
“We’re currently redesigning how we provide in-home case management services, and in doing that we’re looking at how FCE meetings could become part of the warm hand-off between child protection services and in-home case management,” Weber said.
The department has to look at which providers could offer the meetings and where, she added.
Goals
A big goal of the initiative is to reduce the overall referrals and subsequent referrals to juvenile court, Skjod said. She receives data on youth in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems to sort and then notify juvenile court officers and child welfare workers in counties.
“Sometimes we have kids that get up to 10 subsequent referrals in a year,” Skjod said. “If we can somehow show that the meetings and the different diversions that are being implemented are successful in helping these kids, maybe stop them after the second referral, maybe after the third referral … keep them from getting deeper and deeper.”
The six-month report noted that 80% of North Dakota youth in correctional custody are dual status youth. That’s another area of focus.
“If we can work with these kids to stop them from getting to that point, that would be ideal,” said Traynor, the Court Improvement Program coordinator.
Traynor said it will probably be two or three years before the initiative’s results could show a potential reduction in referrals to juvenile court. The one-year report is likely to show the effects of the 2019 Legislature raising the age of culpability from 7 to 10, she said. That change took effect Aug. 1, 2019.