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North Dakota

Burgum asks for federal help in dealing with storm damage

BISMARCK (AP) — Gov. Doug Burgum has requested federal help for counties dealing with recent storms that caused more than $2 million in damage to roads and other infrastructure.
The storms during the second week of June produced tornadoes and up to baseball-sized hail, caused flooding and included damaging winds of up to 93 mph.
Because North Dakota is experiencing one of the worst droughts on record, the torrential rain that caused flooding was only made worse because dried out topsoil was nearly impermeable.
Burgum is asking that the Federal Emergency Management Agency issued a major disaster declaration for eight counties: Burke, Divide, Emmons, Grant, Kidder, LaMoure, Sioux and Williams.
If granted, a presidential declaration would unlock FEMA public assistance to help cities, counties and townships pay for the costs of repairing roads and other infrastructure.
“These unrelenting storms caused extensive damage to homes and businesses, damaged roads and bridges, and snapped power poles and downed power lines, cutting off service to several communities,” Burgum said.
The governor also on Monday issued an executive order mobilizing state resources to help local and tribal officials.

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North Dakota

3 North Dakota oil well fires extinguished after 16 days

WATFORD CITY (AP) — Authorities say fires involving three oil wells in McKenzie County were brought under control over the weekend after they had burned for 16 days.
Crews put out the fire at the first well northeast of Watford City last Tuesday and extinguished the final well on Saturday, said Beth Babb, a spokesperson for Petro-Hunt, the company operating the well pad.
An inspector from the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality was headed to the site to talk with personnel there and do a visual inspection, The Bismarck Tribune reported.
An early estimate Petro-Hunt provided the state indicated that 4,200 gallons of oil and 4,200 gallons of produced water spilled in the incident. Produced water is also known as brine or saltwater, and it comes up alongside oil and gas in wells.
State officials believe that any fluids that spilled either burned up or were contained.
The cause of the fire is under investigation, but the blaze began at one of the wells and then spread to the other two, all of which are on the same well pad. Bill Suess, who has worked for Environmental Quality since 2008, said he could not remember another oil well fire in North Dakota that burned for as long as this one.

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North Dakota

North Dakota Guard soldiers returning from Washington

BISMARCK (AP) — Members of a Bismarck-based North Dakota Army National Guard unit who were called to active duty in Washington, D.C. late last year have begun returning home.
Seventy soldiers with Company C, 2nd Battalion of the 285th Aviation Regiment were deployed last November to the the nation’s capital. The unit flies the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, and the mission was to transport personnel and light cargo within what’s known as the National Capital Region.
Family members, friends and Guard leaders were at the Bismarck, Fargo, Grand Forks and Minot airports over the weekend to welcome home the first of the returning soldiers., The Bismarck Tribune reported.
A ceremony to officially welcome home the soldiers is planned in late October.

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North Dakota

15 cars of BNSF coal train derail near Bismarck

BISMARCK (AP) — Around 15 cars of a BNSF coal train derailed south of Bismarck.
Bismarck Police, the Burleigh County Sheriff’s Department and Bismarck Fire Department were called out around 3:15 p.m. Sunday for the derailment near Hemlock Street.
There were no reports of injuries.
BNSF spokeswoman Amy Casas said railroad crews were at the scene Sunday evening and an investigation was underway.

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North Dakota

Complaint challenges new law on unpaid oil and gas royalties

FARGO (AP) — A complaint filed on behalf of a North Dakota agency challenges a new state law promoted by the energy industry on limiting the collection of oil and gas royalties, a move that could potentially turn into a wrestling match among branches of state government.
The measure that went into effect this week reduces the amount of interest the state can charge companies for unpaid oil and gas royalties, from 30% to 15%. In addition, the law that sailed through the Republican-dominated Legislature does not allow the state to collect unpaid royalties before August 2013.
The brief filed Monday on behalf of the Board of University and School Lands, referred to as the Land Board, argues the legislation violates the U.S. Constitution because it harms the obligation of previously agreed-upon contracts. State Land Commissioner Jodi Smith has said “hundreds of millions” of dollars are owed to the state. The bulk of the royalties go toward supporting public education.
Fargo attorney Joshua Swanson, who recently won a lawsuit for a family over oil and gas mineral rights under a portion of the Missouri River reservoir, said it’s a rare case because it will likely pit one arm of the state, the Land Board, against the Legislature and Republican Gov. Doug Burgum, a member of the Land Board.
Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who was defeated by Burgum in the 2016 Republican primary for governor, is both a member and legal representative of the Land Board. Stenehjem filed the motion challenging the constitutionality of the new law.
“The other big issue here,” Swanson said, “is the political repercussions that are at stake in addition to the legal ones.”
The land board is asking a McKenzie County judge to wipe the law off the books. Regardless of that decision, Swanson said, the case is likely headed to the North Dakota Supreme Court, which in 2019 sided with the state Department of Trust Lands, which manages the land board, in a suit filed by an operator after the state determined that companies were taking improper deductions.
Swanson said he believes the state has a compelling argument because of their stance over the constitutionality of the law and the state’s “gifting” clause that prohibits gifts of money or loans to businesses or individuals.
Smith has said that about 30 companies, most of them natural gas firms, owe the state for unpaid royalties.

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North Dakota

North Dakota turns vaccination campaign toward children

FARGO (AP) — The North Dakota Health Department on Friday continued its campaign to promote the safety and necessity of COVID-19 vaccinations, this time focusing on getting shots for children before school resumes this fall.
North Dakota has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country with just over 40% of the population completing their required doses, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Six other states had worse records as of Thursday.
The state health department’s website shows that 19.7% of adolescents in the 12-18 age group are considered fully vaccinated.
Two Fargo doctors from Sanford Health speaking at a virtual town hall emphasized the historical success of vaccines and encouraged parents to turn to their pediatricians or health care providers with any questions. They referred to one website erroneously stating that thousands of people have died from the vaccine and advised against getting information online or from politicians.
“You could give a whole a lecture on this,” Dr. Rebecca Bakke said of the misinformation. “You should listen to physicians about health issues more than you should listen to politicians.”
Dr. Tracie Newman said the vaccine is not only the most effective way to keep a child from getting the virus, but also will reduce the likelihood that the child will transmit the virus to “people in their inner circle,” such as grandparents, friends, classmates, teachers, coaches and other adults in their life.
“The vaccines continue to be closely monitored for safety,” Newman said, saying she believes reports showing the medicine to be the most highly-scrutinized vaccine in history.
Since some children naturally hate needles, doctors said they can use numbing creams and sprays as a distraction during the procedure.
“I have four kids and I have one kid like that. I raised them all the same and some kids are like that,” Bakke said. “It can be very stressful.”

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North Dakota

Air Force unmanned aircraft crashes near Gilby; no injuries

GILBY (AP) — An unmanned and remotely piloted U.S. Air Force aircraft crashed in a rural field near Gilby on Friday morning as it was returning to the Grand Forks Air Force Base.
Authorities say the Air Force RQ-4 Block 40 Global Hawk crashed at about 7 a.m. There were no people on board and no reported injuries.
A fire that happened after the crash was put out, and an investigation is underway.
The public is being asked to avoid the area, as it is now the site of an active military investigation.
In a statement, Col. Jeremy Fields, the 319th Reconnaissance Wing vice commander, said military personnel were on the scene and he anticipated the recovery and investigation may take several weeks.

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North Dakota

More oil shipped as Dakota Access Pipeline expansion starts

BISMARCK (AP) — More oil is being shipped through the Dakota Access Pipeline to the dismay of opponents who say the line expansion should not have gone into service before an environmental study has been completed.
Energy Transfer executives said during a quarterly earnings call this week that the line can now transport 750,000 barrels of oil daily, which is 180,000 more than before. Energy Transfer is adding pump stations to boost the pipeline’s horsepower, and said once the full expansion is up and running, as much as 1.1 million barrels of oil will flow through the pipeline each day.
The Bismarck Tribune reports that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is evaluating the expansion in its ongoing environmental study of the line. The study will determine whether the Corps reissues a permit for the line to cross the Missouri River, which was revoked last year after U.S. District Judge James Boasberg ordered the study.
An attorney for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which opposes the line and its expansion, said the purpose of the Corps’ review “is to study the impact of things before they occur, not after.”
“This is outrageous,” attorney Jan Hasselman said after learning that part of the expansion had gone into service. “This is a pipeline that does not have federal permits across the Missouri River. It is subject of a federal enforcement action due to multiple safety violations and instead of dialing back, they’re pushing even more oil through.”
The violations were made public this summer after federal pipeline safety agency inspections in 2019. The federal government has proposed a $93,000 penalty. Energy Transfer says it is addressing the problems, which did not end in leaks.
The Standing Rock Reservation is downstream of where the pipeline passes under the Missouri River, and tribal members are concerned about a potential spill.
Standing Rock Vice Chairman Ira Taken Alive said the expansion increases “the threat to our health and drinking water supply,” and he called on President Joe Biden’s administration to shut down the pipeline.
Energy Transfer has said the line is safe. The Corps under Biden has allowed the line to continue operating.

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North Dakota

New state division focuses on supporting early childhood

BISMARCK (AP) — North Dakota’s Department of Human Services has launched a new division that focuses on early childhood.
The Early Childhood Division will align programs and resources dealing with early childhood experience and child care, officials said.
“Ninety-five percent of brain development occurs before age 5, so supporting quality early experiences is extremely important,” Human Services Executive Director Chris Jones said.
Jones said the new division will help ensure that more North Dakota children enter kindergarten ready to learn, and that more early child care providers participate in a quality rating improvement system, the Bismarck Tribune reported.
The state has awarded grants totaling $2.7 million to 26 early childhood programs across North Dakota which will serve children in 32 classrooms. Human Services this fall will offer grant funding aimed at boosting the quality of child care.
North Dakota also received more than $100 million in federal coronavirus pandemic aid that is specifically for early childhood and the child care sector.
Kay Larson will lead the division, which includes child care licensing, provider training and technical assistance and family support and engagement among other areas.

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North Dakota

Trial opens over gruesome killing of 4 in North Dakota

FARGO (AP) — An attorney for a man accused in the gruesome killings of four people at a North Dakota property management firm said Wednesday that the case amounts to a rush to judgment based on bad information that led to the wrong conclusion. A prosecutor, though, said every piece of the puzzle leads to the defendant.
Chad Isaak, 47, of Washburn, is on trial for the April 1, 2019, deaths of RJR Maintenance & Management co-owner Robert Fakler, 52, and co-workers Adam Fuehrer, 42, and spouses Bill and Lois Cobb, 50 and 45. He pleaded not guilty to four counts of murder and three other counts.
It was one of the most heinous crimes in North Dakota history, defense attorney Bruce Quick acknowledged in his opening statement. Three of the victims were shot and stabbed. Combined, the four of them were stabbed about 100 times.
Prosecutor Karlei Neufeld began the trial being livestreamed from Mandan by describing the horrific crime scene and said evidence would include photos, surveillance video, lab reports, bullet fragments, and a knife and other things found during searches of the suspect’s home and vehicle.
“Each piece of evidence you will receive in this case will be like a piece of a puzzle,” Neufeld told the jury. “And … as you start putting them together, you’ll be able to see a clear picture of what took place.”