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Jim Fuglie

Jim Fuglie is a native of Hettinger, N.D., a U.S. Navy veteran (1968-1972) and majored in communications at Dickinson State College (now Dickinson State University) in Dickinson, ND. He has worked as a newspaper reporter and editor, as a speechwriter and communications director for North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Myron Just and as Executive Director of the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party. He worked at the Herald from late 1975 to early 1976. In 1985, Jim was appointed North Dakota Tourism Director by Governor George Sinner and served in that post until 1992. He later worked as Development Director for the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation and as public relations director for Kranzler Kingsley Communications in Bismarck. He retired in 2009, and he and his wife Lillian, the retired Director of Library Services at Dickinson State University, now live in Bismarck and spend much of their time exploring the back roads and trails of the North Dakota Bad Lands.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Comment Now On The ‘Bridge To Nowhere’

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote here about the proposed new bridge over the Little Missouri State Scenic River north of Medora, N.D., that is being shoved down our throats by a megalomaniac county commissioner who wants to spend up to $20 million of our gas tax dollars on a “Bridge to Nowhere.”

At the insistence of the Federal Highway Administration, the county is deep into an Environmental Impact Statement process — in fact nearing the end stages of that process — and will soon be asking for federal funds to build its bridge. One of the final steps in the process is a public comment period, which is open now and runs through Sept. 4. If you go to this website, you will find the details and a link to another website that contains the actual Draft EIS, for your reading pleasure.

If you have any feelings about running a lot of traffic through the valley of the Little Missouri State Scenic River, or wasting millions of taxpayer dollars, you should send in comments on the project. Below is the letter Lillian and I have sent, expressing our feelings. This letter and my earlier blog should give you plenty of information about the project, so you don’t have to read the entire 178-page document. (Although if you really want to spend a summer afternoon reading, here’s the link to the Draft EIS.)

Even easier, if you agree with what Lillian and I have written, feel free to just copy and paste a link to this blog into an e-mail addressed to LMRC@kljeng.com and tell Jen Turnbow you agree with the letter in the blog, and your comments will be duly noted.

Here’s what we wrote, and the address to which you can send your comments.

Jen Turnbow, Project Manager

KLJ

P.O. Box 1157

Bismarck N.D. 58502-1157

Aug.17, 2018

Dear Ms. Turnbow:

Please accept these comments on the Draft EIS for the Little Missouri River Crossing in Billings County, North Dakota. We are writing to recommend Alternative L, the no-build option.

If built, this bridge would be the most colossal waste of taxpayer dollars in memory. If it is built with federal or state matching funds, approved by the North Dakota Department of Transportation, it will be a huge embarrassment for both the North Dakota DOT and the Federal Highway Administration because it is truly a “bridge to nowhere.”

North Dakota has substantial infrastructure needs, as witnessed by several state legislators recently, and the proposed $11.2 million, and likely as much as $20 million, could be much better spent correcting existing problems rather than building a new bridge unlikely to be used by many except possibly the oil industry.

In spite of all being said by the county and KLJ, it appears the only real beneficiary of this bridge would be the oil industry. Federal and state tax dollars should not be spent to accommodate a single industry, especially at the expense of real and substantial damage to the historic, recreational and scenic properties of the state’s only designated State Scenic River.

If the bridge is built with Billings County taxpayer dollars, as the commission has indicated it might do if federal or state dollars are not available, it should be subject to a referendum by Billings County voters before it is approved.

Almost no one wants this bridge. It has simply become a cause celebre for Billings County Commission Chairman Jim Arthaud, who has already spent several million dollars in Billings County tax dollars pursuing it, and despite the fact it is not in his preferred location, has gone too far down the road for him to consider abandoning it without losing face. It is simply now a monument to his persistence, a monument on which he would like his name inscribed.

Almost no one will use this bridge, according to testimony at the public hearings, unless KLJ, the project’s engineers, are misleading us with this statement:

“Traffic volume increase of 3.5 percent for roads associated with the alternative and adjacent roadways. Not expected to generate new traffic; however the redistribution of local trips attracted to the new bridge is anticipated to increase the typical 2.5 percent traffic growth rates by 1 percent for roads associated with the alternative and adjacent roadways.”

If that statement is true, there is no need for the bridge. If that statement is misleading (which is not only possible, but likely), and the volume of heavy truck traffic increases dramatically, it will destroy the sanctity and peacefulness of the state’s only designated State Scenic River, likely in violation of Chapter 61-29 of the North Dakota Century Code, the Little Missouri State Scenic River Act, enacted by the North Dakota Legislature “to preserve the Little Missouri River as nearly as possible in its present state … (and) maintain the scenic, historic, and recreational qualities of the Little Missouri River and its tributary streams.”

The North Dakota DOT, as a lead agency for this project, should not approve a project that would violate the law.

Today there are ZERO trucks driving through the river valley and across the Little Missouri State Scenic River between Medora and the Long-X Bridge. That is what the residents of the river valley, although there are few, want the case to be. According to testimony at the public hearings, there are fewer than 10 families living alongside the river who could possibly benefit from this bridge. But they live in fear of the noise, danger, and massive dust clouds which could be generated by heavy truck traffic through the river valley and on their farm-to-market roads.

The County Commission has leaned heavily on the need for the bridge to accommodate emergency vehicles. That argument doesn’t wash. Almost all of the county’s emergency vehicles are located in Medora, less than a mile from the bridge across the Little Missouri River there, and can go either way — east or west — to respond to an emergency.

For all of these reasons and others, the county should quit wasting taxpayer dollars and select Alternative L, the no-build alternative, and the North Dakota DOT and the Federal Highway Administration should reject the use of state and/or federal funds for this project.

Respectfully,

Lillian Crook

Jim Fuglie

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — The Halcyon Days Are Gone

In the halcyon days of the 1970s in North Dakota, when the state was a quieter, kinder, friendlier, more thoughtful place, the Legislature passed a bill, and the governor signed it, designating the Little Missouri River as our state’s only official State Scenic River and creating a commission to look out for it.

The Little Missouri Scenic River Commission did its job through the administrations of four governors who cared about the Bad Lands and its river — Art Link, Allen Olson, George Sinner and Ed Schafer — two Democrats and two Republicans. It met regularly, rerouted proposed pipelines to protect trees, kept gravel miners, oil drillers, seismologists and road builders out of the river valley, made sure oil wells and tank batteries were above the bluff line well away from the river and even passed rules regulating barbed-wire fences across the river.

Then came the administrations of John “Good-Paying Jobs Uber Alles” Hoeven and Jack Dalrymple, and the commission faded into obscurity. It ceased to meet, and its rules ceased to be enforced, and soon the industrialization of the Little Missouri State Scenic River Valley began.

Oil wells started showing up on the riverbank, just yards from the river. The state engineer began issuing industrial water permits to take water from the river for fracking, in direct violation of the law (600 of them at last count). The roar of diesel trucks and jake brakes, and the steady thump, thump of one lung pumpjacks, echoed throughout the valley.

With the election of Doug Burgum, who was an easterner, but owned a Bad Lands ranch, there was some hope that the state’s only Scenic River might once again get some special attention at the highest levels of government. Didn’t happen. Oh, Burgum reformulated the commission, but then he asked it, as its first official act, to ratify a policy making it legal, for the first time in more than 40 years, to use Little Missouri State Scenic River water for industrial purposes — read: fracking. They did that this week.

The commission is an interesting mix of folks. By law, it is composed of six Bad Lands ranchers, one from each of the six Bad Lands counties, and three bureaucrats — the state engineer, the state health officer and the state parks director. For the first 25 years of its existence, it carried out its mission, with reasonable ranchers who really cared about the river valley, and dedicated state employees from the State Parks and Health Departments and state engineer’s office, teaming up to fulfill its mission, as outlined in Chapter 61-29 of the North Dakota Century Code: “to maintain the scenic, historic, and recreational qualities of the Little Missouri River and its tributary streams.”

The law also says the commission “shall also have the power and duties of promulgating management policies to coordinate all activities within the confines of the Little Missouri River when such action is deemed necessary.”

One of the things they did with that authority, to help “maintain the recreation quality” of the river, was to adopt a fencing policy, which said that fences across the river “must have a gated opening of at least 8 feet.” They adopted that policy at a meeting in April 1995.

Now, I’ve been canoeing the Little Missouri for more than 40 years, and for the first 35 years, I rarely encountered a fence across the river. Once or twice in all those years. But a few years ago, Lillian and I canoed from the Logging Camp Ranch, south of Medora, into Medora, a trip we’ve done probably half a dozen times. And in that 40 or so river miles, we encountered eight fences across the river, none of which had gates. We were forced to get out and portage around every one of them. On about fence No. 6, I angrily vowed to bring a wire cutter with me the next time I canoed that stretch of the river. I cooled down after a couple of beers in Medora, and instead just decided to never canoe that stretch of the river again. And I haven’t. Which is too bad, since it is the stretch that goes around Bullion Butte, one of the nicest places on the entire river. Entire planet, for that matter.

Later, I asked a rancher down in that country why there were so many fences all of a sudden. He said, “Jim, neighbors don’t get along like they used to.”

Well, he’s right, of course. In the halcyon days, cattle along that stretch ran free and were rounded up and sorted in the spring for branding. Now, fences keep everyone’s herds separate.

I’m writing all this on the heels of this week’s Scenic River Commission meeting in Dickinson, at which the commission was asked to weigh in on three issues.

The first was Burgum’s policy of allowing for industrial use of water from the river for fracking. The policy was adopted by the State Water Commission, which Burgum chairs, about a year ago, but the Scenic River Commission mulled it over for a while before finally giving it the okay this week.

So instead of looking out for the river, maintaining its “scenic, historic and recreational qualities,” the first official action of the newly formed commission was to give its blessing to the industrialization of the Little Missouri State Scenic River. There are already approved industrial water permits at 10 ranches on the river right now. Who knows how many there will be in a year, or five years.

The second was a request for support for the new bridge across the Little Missouri River north of Medora. The group discussed it for more than an hour before commission member Gene Allen from Beach made a motion to support the “no-build” alternative laid out in the Environmental Impact Statement, which would have put the commission on record as opposing the new bridge. That brought Billings County Commission chairman Jim Arthaud roaring from the audience to the front of the room, where he took over the meeting and said in no uncertain terms that Billings County needed and deserved the bridge.

Well, after more discussion, the motion failed on a 5-3 vote, with only Allen, Slope County rancher John Hanson and Parks Director Melissa Baker voting in favor of it.  Then there was silence while commission chairman Joe Schettler, Dunn County’s representative on the commission waited for a motion to support the bridge. No motion was forthcoming. So, after a long pause, Schettler recessed the meeting for a bathroom break. So the commission took no position on the bridge.

The third was a discussion of the illegal bridge already built over the river in Dunn County by Wylie Bice, which I wrote about the other day. After some discussion, the group decided that since the bridge is already there, not much can be done about it. So they gave it tacit approval.

But the discussion turned to the idea that it was actually the Corps of Engineers fault the bridge was there because they signed off on the bridge but hadn’t checked with the Bureau of Land Management, on whose land the bridge is located, to see if it was OK with them. So the group passed a motion to send a letter to the Corps asking them to please share information on things like this.

I found it a bit ironic that a bunch of conservative ranchers were urging the government agencies to share personal information with each other. Guess it depends on the situation.

So now, the commission moves on to other things — what other things I am not sure. It’s an interesting group. The county representatives are appointed by the county commissioners. They must be ranchers who live on the river, except for the Golden Valley County representative (lawyer Gene Allen from Beach). (Golden Valley is one of the Bad Lands counties even though the river doesn’t flow through it.)

A couple of them take their responsibility to protect the river seriously. More of them are there to protect their county’s economic interests by not letting environmental protection get in the way of the industry that fuels their county’s economy — oil. The chairman himself has an industrial water permit and sells water from the river to the frackers. To be fair, he hasn’t been voting on these things, saying he will only vote to break a tie.

State Parks director Melissa Baker is there to protect the river. State Engineer Garland Erbele is there to do what engineers do — build things. He’s no friend of the river. The Health Department is represented by Dave Glatt, head of the state’s Department of Environmental Quality. He’s a lackey for the energy industry, Burgum’s worst appointment to date, who can’t be trusted to stick up for the river. He voted FOR the industrial water permit policy and AGAINST the motion to oppose the new bridge in Billings County, even though it has the potential to be the worst environmental problem ever to face the river if the oil trucks start crossing through the valley by the hundreds, or thousands, as the county has predicted. I told him after Monday’s meeting that, as the state’s top environmental officer, he ought to be ashamed of himself.

So what we’ve got, I was moaning to a friend of mine who knows these issues, is what we asked for: an active Little Missouri Scenic River Commission. I guess we have to be more careful about what we ask for. It’s just a rubber stamp for the energy industry, I complained to my friend. And that is bad because their approval of things like industrial water permits and bridges (and who knows what else in the future) gives those who would abuse the Little Missouri State Scenic River the credibility of having been approved and endorsed by an official state government commission.

A couple of years ago I began writing about the need to reactivate the commission. I really, really wanted to bring it back and put it to work protecting the river from industrial development. I remember those halcyon days when the Little Missouri Scenic River Commission members really, really cared about the river. And I really, really long for those days again, I told my friend.

“Jim,” he said, “things are different now. You need to lower your expectations.”

I guess.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — ‘Honest, Officer, I Thought Owned That Land.’ Wrong

If you read The Bismarck Tribune on Tuesday morning, you read Amy Dalrymple’s pretty good story about Monday’s marathon Little Missouri Scenic River Commission meeting.  I’m going to write more about that later. I’ll just say, for now, be careful what you wish for.

What I want to write about today is one of the things the commission discussed Monday — the illegal bridge over the Little Missouri State Scenic River on the Wylie Bice Ranch in Dunn County.

I’ve written about this a few times, but there are new developments and I’m going to address it one more time — for now.

Wylie Bice is the uber-rich rancher from west of Killdeer, N.D., the man who built a trucking company from scratch and sold it for at least $79.9 million. Higher numbers have been bandied about, but we know from business journal reports he got at least that much. He’s a real North Dakota success story. Good for him.

He may have had some debt to pay off with the proceeds, but he had enough left over to buy a neighbor’s ranch, giving him land on both sides of the Little Missouri State Scenic River.

He needed to get back and forth, so he built a bridge — a mighty expensive bridge, probably a couple of million dollars worth — and put one end of it on land he didn’t own. It took a few years for the owners — the U.S. government’s Bureau of Land Management — to find out about it, and when it did, it did what government agencies do: It set out to do a study to determine what to do about Bice’s transgressions.

That study starts next week, at the end of a public comment period. What the BLM has done is required Bice to submit an application to build a bridge on their land (a bridge that already exists).  He’s done that. Now they’re requiring an Environmental Assessment, which Mr. Bice will have to pay for.

The Environmental Assessment could be done yet this fall. It will lay out a series of alternatives, which could include tearing down the bridge, granting an easement and leaving the bridge in place or a new option that surfaced this week — just selling the land the bridge is on to Bice. It’s only about 80 acres, and it’s isolated from other BLM land holdings in Dunn County, and it’s certainly worth less than $79.9 million, so Mr. Bice can afford it.

But it’s looking more and more like Bice is not the kind of man you want to do business with. For one thing, he’s a liar.

If you go read Amy Dalrymple’s story from the Sunday Tribune, you’ll find this line:

“Bice said he believed he owned the property and he chose the location to avoid removing a lot of trees.”

That’s the lie.

Although he didn’t contact the BLM about putting a bridge on its land, he certainly knew it wasn’t his land.

You see, Bice (or his engineer) did one thing right: they applied for a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to put a bridge over the river, for which the Corps has management responsibilities. The Corps is only responsible for the river itself, though, not the riverbank. Bice owned the land on one side of the river and the BLM the other.

In his application to the corps, Bice put in photocopies of two maps of the area. Both clearly show the land on the west side of the river is owned by the federal government. He even drew in the bridge on both maps, from his land onto  BLM land. Here’s his map, from the Dunn County Atlas, with his note on the bottom showing the location of his bridge.

There’s a second map in the application, from the U. S. Forest Service’s National Grasslands map, but I won’t bother you with it.

So it is pretty obvious he knew he was putting a bridge where he shouldn’t be putting a bridge, at least without permission from the people who owned the land. Still, the excuse he used for building the bridge where it shouldn’t be, when questioned by the Tribune reporter, was that he thought he owned it.

Sorry, Bice, you’re busted.

I got my copy of the Corps permit application a year ago by sending an e-mail to the Bismarck office of the Corps of Engineers on July 1, 2017, which said:

“I am interested in finding out whether a permit was issued to Wylie Bice, Grassy Butte, N.D., to construct a bridge over the little Missouri in Dunn County, North Dakota. The legal address is Section 33, Township 148 North, Range 97 West. If so, I would like to see the permit and any accompanying documents related to the project. The bridge was likely built in the last five years. Thank you.”

Just two days later, on July 3, I got this response from a nice lady at the Corps office, along with a copy of the permit application and the letter approving the permit:

“Mr. Bice obtained a nationwide permit to install a bridge in 2013.  Attached is the verification letter and application information.  The project manager that worked on this has since retired, so if you have any questions, feel free to give me a call.”

Well, I read the application and the letter approving it, and looked at the maps, and saw that the west side of the bridge was on BLM land. So I wrote back:

“Thank you for sending me that information. I have just one more question. The bridge enters/exits the Little Missouri River on the north side on BLM land. Does your permit cover access to the BLM land as well as authorizing the bridge? Or would that need a second permit?”

The nice lady at the Corps wrote right back:

“Our permit is not a land right.  By signing our permit application, the applicant is providing assurance that he/she has the authority to construct the project as presented in the application.”

Well, that settles that, then. I also found this language in the letter approving the bridge:

“Dear Mr. Bice … You may proceed with your project in accordance with the terms and conditions of DA Nationwide Permit No, 14 … This determination is applicable only to the permit program administered by the Corps of Engineers. It does not eliminate the need to obtain other federal, state, tribal, and local approvals before beginning work.”

In other words, Bice, you probably should go knock on the BLM manager’s door and ask him if it is OK to put a bridge on his land.

I did follow up with a phone call to the Corps lady, just to confirm. She said it was the responsibility of the person doing the project to contact the BLM. She said they assumed he had done that — it would only make sense to get permission before building the bridge.

So if you read the Tribune story, and Bice’s statement that he thought he owned the land, and thought to yourself, “Well, anybody can make a mistake,” well WRONG. He knew exactly what he was doing.

Well, after that exchange with the Corps, I called the BLM office and asked what the heck was going on. They were surprised. They said they’d get back to me. They did. With this response “Well, we’ve got a situation here.”

No shit, Sherlock.

So now, I expect Bice to make a nice generous offer to the BLM for the land and hope it will accept it and just go away. I suppose that’s the most logical solution.  But I hope that’s not what happens. That’s just not right. Just because you have A LOT of money, you shouldn’t be able to get away with something like this. It just leaves a bad taste.

My suggestion is a hefty fine (although that won’t bother him, either), grant him an easement for the bridge and the road to it, charge him back rent for the easement and rent going forward and make him clean up the area around the bridge, get rid of his water depot, and reclaim the grassland where he planted alfalfa. This IS public land, land we all own.

So where the whole thing stands right now is, the BLM is now accepting comments on Bice’s application to build a bridge, until Monday (Aug. 13). It sent a letter to “interested parties” (I got one) outlining the alternatives they are considering:

  • 1. Take no action (leave the bridge, road, pond and alfalfa fields on the land as is). This would not achieve the project purpose, but the BLM will analyze the effects to serve as a baseline.
  • 2. Remove the bridge, road, pond and alfalfa fields and rehabilitate the public land to a condition similar to that of the surrounding public land.
  • 3. Sell or exchange the affected public land to the adjacent landowner.
  • 4. Authorize the bridge, road and pond through rights-of-way, and the alfalfa fields through a lease.
  • 5. Authorize only the bridge and access road through a right-of-way, remove the pond and alfalfa fields and rehabilitate the public land. In the event a right-of-way for the bridge and road are granted by the BLM, the site would still remain inaccessible to the public, via road, due to the lack of public roads to the site.

I actually really prefer No. 2, tearing the damn thing down, but it probably just doesn’t make sense to do that now that it is there. I wouldn’t mind if a lot of people suggested that, though.

You can read the letter here. It says:

We would appreciate your input on:

  • Other actions that would meet the purpose of resolving the issue.
  • Suggested changes to the alternatives.
  • Other concerns over project impacts.
  • Data/information the BLM should consider in making a reasoned decision.
  • People or groups the BLM should contact about this project.
  • Future actions by BLM or others that could have a cumulative effect together with the proposed action.

So if you want to commentand make some suggestions, go to this website. Down in the bottom right-hand corner of the page is a place to comment. I’m sending them this blog as my comments. We’ll get another chance to comment on the Environmental Assessment later. I’ll let you know when that time comes.

Oh, and if you want a really good look at the site on an illustrated Google Earth photo, go here. These government guys have some cool tools.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — ‘A Bridge To Nowhere’

Well, after nearly a dozen years of delay, it looks like Billings County is finally going to build a bridge over the Little Missouri State Scenic River north of Medora, N.D. The county posted a notice in the Federal Register on Oct. 12, 2006, that it was beginning an Environmental Impact Statement process “for a proposed roadway project and river crossing over the Little Missouri River.”

Last week, almost 12 years later, the county presented its Draft EIS to the public and took testimony for and against the project at a pair of public hearings in Medora and Bismarck. Now a mechanical process will lead to a final decision on the location of the bridge, involving mostly the North Dakota Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration. More about that in a minute. First, a little history.

In the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s, with an alarming number of farmers and ranchers facing foreclosure, especially on the barren prairies of North Dakota, President Franklin Roosevelt declared it was the policy of the United States government to keep as many people on the land as possible in hopes of better times.  Emergency plans were implemented.

In North Dakota, ranchers in the western part of the state were offered the opportunity to avoid foreclosure — by banks that did not want to become landowners — by selling their land to the government, which would then lease it to back to them for pennies on the dollar. The money from the sale would settle their debts to the banks, and even though times were tough, they might be able to survive on the meager income from their ranching operations.

The ranchers were able to keep the home section, where their homesteads and ranch buildings were located. For ranchers along the Little Missouri River, that meant they could keep their river frontage — important because it provided water for their cattle. One look at a Little Missouri National Grasslands map today shows clearly the result of that. Nearly all the land directly beside the river is privately owned. The rest — a million acres of it— is owned by the federal government and leased to those ranchers alongside the river for their ranching operations.

Much of that private land along the river is owned by descendants of those who benefited from Roosevelt’s program, and much of the government land is leased by those same descendants. A typical Bad Lands rancher today owns just a section or two of land along the river and leases the rest of his acreage from the government. FDR’s program continues to work today. (The current map shows the thin strip of white along the river — private land — in a sea of green — public land.)

So six years ago, when Billings County Commission Chairman Jim Arthaud said that he wanted to put the new bridge over the Little Missouri State Scenic River on public land, he knew that was likely not possible because there are very few places between Medora and the northern border of Billings County where the government owns land on both sides of the river.  “I mean, I can tell you where I think it needs to go. It needs to go on public land where it affects all the public, where it doesn’t affect private people,” Arthaud said at a public meeting back in 2012.

One of those places where there is public land on both sides of the river, of course, is beside the Elkhorn Ranch Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. That’s where Athaud originally wanted to put the bridge, but a huge public outcry put an end to that idea.

”We know damn well where that bridge belongs,” Arthaud told National Public Radio’s John McChesney in an interview in the late summer of 2012. “On federal ground, about three miles north (of the Elkhorn).”

McChesney also reported that “Arthaud also owns a trucking company. He says the bridge will be out of earshot and eyesight of the ranch. But studies of those effects have not been completed. It is estimated that at least 1,000 trucks a day would cross the bridge. But Arthaud says tourists would use it, too.”

“The whole public would be able to use that place, not just the elitist environmentalists,” he (Arthaid) says. “That lousy 50, however many acres it is, 200 acres or whatever, where Teddy sat there and rested his head and found himself.”

Ouch.

Arthaud’s an interesting character. He’s one of North Dakota’s wealthiest men. He sold his trucking company, the largest oilfield service company in the state, once reportedly valued at more than half a billion dollars, to a private equity firm but has other business interests. Still, he spends an inordinate amount of time in his capacity as a county commissioner, treating Billings County as his own little kingdom.

He’s politically active — he chaired former Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s re-election committee in 2012, and he and his wife, Lynn, have donated more than a quarter of a million dollars to Republicans and conservative causes since 2000, according to the watchdog website FollowTheMoney.org, giving him lots of good political connections, which he may need in the coming years. Because the request for federal funding to pay for the bridge project is going to go directly to the governor of the State of North Dakota.

Arthaud knows something about dealing with politicians. Here’s a story from a friend of a friend of a friend. Someone was in Arthaud’s office and needed something from Sen. John Hoeven. Arthaud picked up the phone, dialed up Hoeven’s office in Washington, D.C., got Hoeven on the phone, got what his friend needed, hung up, and said, “That’s what $20,000 will get you.”

Here’s how the funding process works.

At the public hearing last week in Bismarck, Arthaud said the county is going to look at all possible funding sources for the bridge (and if they can’t get state or federal funding, by God, they’ll pay for it themselves!), which has a price tag that may exceed $20 million. The EIS prepared by the Bismarck Engineering Firm KLJ puts the actual cost of the bridge at $11.2 million but says under a “worst case scenario” an equal amount may need to be spent relocating utility facilities. I expect that to be the case. So I’m just going to call it a $20 million project from now on.

In the olden days, it would be as easy as Arthaud having his friend Sen. Hoeven earmark $20 million in the next federal highway appropriations bill, but earmarks are a thing of the past. Today, states get a share of the federal gas tax money, and they spend it as they see fit, with minimal oversight from the Federal Highway Administration.

So now, when the final EIS is approved and the county is ready to build, it will send a request for the money to the North Dakota Department of Transportation. In essence, Gov. Doug Burgum gets to decide if federal funds will build the bridge.

Dave Short, whose family land the bridge is slated to cross, calls this “The Bridge to Nowhere.” He’s mostly right. At the public hearings in both Medora and Bismarck, KLJ and Arthaud contended that the bridge is being built mostly for local use. But there are only a handful of ranchers along the river who will likely find any use for the bridge — mostly four or five who will have a shorter trip to Medora, although they will have to drive 35 miles an hour through the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park to get there.

Some years ago, Arthaud bragged to The Dickinson Press that “a thousand trucks a day” would use the new bridge to get between U.S. Highway 85 and North Dakota Highway 16. That was the stated intention of the bridge — to connect the two paved highways, making a cut-across for oilfield rucks that then wouldn’t have to go down to Interstate 94 to get across the river.

That talk has mostly disappeared, and now it’s local use, tourists and “some” truck traffic that will benefit from the bridge, the county says. Well, even if “some” is a hundred trucks a day, it’s a nightmare scenario for the affected ranchers.

Here’s the story now, the EIS says:

“Traffic generated within the study area consists primarily of oil and gas-related, recreational, agricultural and local traffic. Most of the existing roadways within the study area carry less than 100 vehicles per day (approximately 50 percent are heavy trucks). Travel patterns throughout the study area generally concentrated on Belle Lake Road, Forest Highway 2, County Road 50, Magpie Creek Road, Blacktail Road, East River Road and Franks Creek road. Traffic on these roadways is expected to grow approximately 2.5 per cent each year.”

So the governor is going to have to decide if there’s justification for a $20 million bridge to accommodate that small amount of traffic. My friends and I have been worried about the “1,000 trucks a day” scenario and the damage it could do to the Little Missouri State Scenic River Valley. But last summer, a friend of mine did a driving tour to see how much time would be saved if an oil trucker wanted to take the cut-across from Highway 85 to Highway 16 instead of going down to the interstate. Guess what? Because of the 35 mph winding gravel roads, it’ll take longer to take the cut-across (and be a much more miserable trip) than it would take by going down to the interstate.

But there’s one thing no one is talking about that does bother me, if indeed it becomes a truck route. The traffic between Highway 85 and the river will utilize Blacktail Road and East River Road and will come within a mile of the Elkhorn Ranch. That potential for noise and dust at Theodore Roosevelt’s “Cradle of Conservation” — one of the most peaceful places in all of North Dakota — troubles me.

Dave Short and the rest of his family, whose land is on the west side of the river and has been described as “one of the best bottoms on the Little Missouri,” as well as Doug Mosser, whose ranch the bridge will impact on the east side of the river, are both opposed to the bridge. To gain right-of-way from the ranchers, the county will likely have to condemn it, using the eminent domain process, a heavy-handed government tactic much disliked in conservative Billings County, and all of western North Dakota’s ranch country, for that matter.

So here’s the scenario ahead. A public comment period closes Aug. 20. If you have strong feelings about wasting federal highway dollars that could be better used elsewhere, then you should submit comments on the project. Republican legislators just announced they plan to spend more than $280 million from the state’s Legacy Fund in the next biennium to solve what Gov. Burgum called “critical infrastructure needs across our entire state.” If indeed we have “critical infrastructure needs across the entire state,” perhaps the federal gas tax dollars would be better spent on those than on a “Bridge to Nowhere.”

Or if you don’t like the possibility of a hundred, or maybe even a thousand, trucks a day kicking up a dust storm through the Little Missouri State Scenic River Valley, you should submit comments.

Or if you don’t like the idea of some renegade county commissioners destroying one of the state’s most historic ranches using eminent domain to take land and put in a bridge and a road through the ranch, you should comment.

After Aug. 20, the county and KLJ will read your comments and respond to them. Then the Federal Highway Administration will read the EIS and the comments and make its suggestions about the project. Eventually, probably next year some time, the FHWA will sign what is called a “Record of Decision” giving the project the green light to proceed.

Then the county will ask North Dakota Gov. Burgum for funding from the state’s allocation of federal highway tax dollars. Generally, the state will grant funds for 80 percent of the project and the county has to come up with the other 20 percent.

If Burgum says yes, it will be the biggest waste of tax money in his time as governor and a total sellout of the Little Missouri State Scenic River Valley. The governor’s got a ranch on the Little Missouri about 30 miles south of where this bridge is proposed. I wonder how he’d like it if the county wanted to put a bridge and a road through HIS place for a thousand trucks a day to use?

If, however, the governor says no, that’ll tighten up the shorts of the Billings County commissioners a bit as they decide whether it’s really a good use of THEIR money. Stay tuned.

To submit comments:

Jen Turnbow, Project Manager

KLJ

P.O. Box 1157

Bismarck, ND 58502-1157

Or: LMRC@kljeng.com

Here’s a link to a webpage with the Draft EIS on it.

One more note:

Way back in 2007, when KLJ was just beginning the EIS process, not having an inkling it was going to take 11 years, KLJ requested a meeting with the Little Missouri Scenic River Commission “to seek guidance from the Commission, if the river crossing structure alternatives comply with the Little Missouri State Scenic River Act.”

The minutes from that 2007 meeting say “KLJ concluded their presentation and asked whether any of these types of river crossings (low water crossings or bridges) would be in violation of the Little Missouri River Act.

“The Commission noted as this project progresses and specific alternatives are recommended for both structure type and location, the commission will need to be presented with detailed information fully addressing the scope and impact of this project to the Little Missouri River. Only then will the commission consider the project for compliance with NDCC 61-29.”

Here’s what NDCC 61-29 says, in part:

61-29-05. Powers and duties of commission.

“The commission may advise local or other units of government to afford the protection adequate to maintain the scenic, historic, and recreational qualities of the Little Missouri River and its tributary streams. The commission shall also have the power and duties of promulgating management policies to coordinate all activities within the confines of the Little Missouri River when such action is deemed necessary.”

Well, as you’ve read here before, the commission went out of business for about 10 years after that meeting but was revived by Gov. Burgum last year, and now it is active. Sort of.

Well, last week I reminded State Parks Director Melissa Baker, who serves as secretary of the commission, of that excerpt from the meeting minutes. I think it took her about 10 minutes to get on the phone and start the process of setting up a meeting. I like that woman.

The meeting will be held next at 2 p.m. Monday (MDT) in the Legends Hall of the Ramada Grand Dakota Lodge in Dickinson. Here’s a link to a web page with the meeting notice and also the minutes from previous meetings.

I’m guessing KLJ will make a presentation similar to the ones it made at the two public hearings on the bridge last week. I’ll be interested to see what a bunch of ranchers (the commission is made up of mostly ranchers along the Little Missouri) think of this idea. And how they think the bridge will contribute to the “scenic, historic and recreational qualities” of the Little Missouri State Scenic River.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Of Refineries And Bridges

There is news this week on several fronts involving threats to the North Dakota Bad Lands. There are some long documents to read. Here’s a summary. More when I get done reading them.

THAT DAMN REFINERY

First, Meridian Energy’s proposed oil refinery near Theodore Roosevelt National Park. You probably read that the Dakota Resource Council and its legal ally, the Environmental Law and Policy Center, filed a complaint with the North Dakota Public Service Commission asking the PSC to assume jurisdiction over the siting of the refinery before construction can begin.

On Monday, the PSC accepted the two groups’ complaint and agreed to serve the complaint on Meridian. What that means is that Meridian will now have to respond to the request for a full site evaluation. I’m pretty sure it also means that it cannot start construction of the refinery (Meridian has its Permit to Construct for a month but have not started any work at the site yet) until the PSC hears both sides of the story. The PSC has heard the environmental group’s side in the 17-page complaint, and now it will l get to hear Meridian’s case, arguing that it is not subject to PSC review.

And then, the PSC will decide whether to accept jurisdiction over the plant and require Meridian to undergo a full site review to decide if this is a good place to put a refinery. If it does that (and I won’t be surprised if it does), expect Meridian to go to court and challenge the PSC’s ability to do that. If Meridian doesn’t, expect ELPC to go to court to try to get a judge to order it done.

ELPC’s complaint asks for a cease and desist order, keeping Meridian from going ahead. I’m not sure if Monday’s motion grants that order. I’m waiting for a call back from an attorney to answer that question, but I’m guessing it does. I’ll keep you posted.

THAT DAMN LITTLE MISSOURI BRIDGE

The second long document I have to read is the long-awaited 80-page Draft Environmental Impact Statement on Billings County’s proposed Little Missouri River Crossing north of Medora, which was released a couple of weeks ago.

I say long-awaited because public hearings on this project were held in the summer of 2012, and we’ve been waiting more than six years now to see this document. No one seems to know what the holdup was, but no one was complaining, except the Billings County Commission, which has shelled out millions of dollars to the engineering firm KLJ for it.

The EIS identifies the proposed location of the new bridge — about 12 miles north of Medora — and explains why this is the best location for a new Little Missouri River crossing. The location is on private land — the historic Short Ranch — in spite of the fact that Commission Chairman Jim Arthaud said unequivocally at the public hearings on the project in June 2012 that the bridge would be built on public land.

Apparently KLJ couldn’t find a place to put it on public land. It will be interesting to hear Arthaud try to explain what happened. It will also be interesting to hear him explain why no one has bothered to even contact the Short family to let them know what is going on. The bridge is proposed to cross the river just downstream from the Short’s home place, within eyesight of the ranch headquarters, and no one from the county or the engineering firm has even bothered to talk to them.

The release of the EIS also triggers a new round of public hearings, scheduled in Bismarck and Medora. The DOT ran some huge, 25-column-inch ads in the Bismarck and Medora papers a couple of weeks ago advertising the public meetings, scheduled for next week, in Bismarck and Medora. But then, with no public fanfare, DOT changed the dates to the following week with just a short notice buried deep on the Billings County website.

So here’s the deal. The Medora hearing is now scheduled for 5 p.m. (MDT) July 23, in the Medora Community Center. The Bismarck hearing is at the Courtyard by Marriot Hotel in North Bismarck at 5 p.m. July 26.

These hearings are to gather public input on the bridge project. If you don’t like the idea of another bridge across the Little Missouri, in the middle of no goddam place, you should go to one or both of these hearings and make your feelings known. You should probably read the EIS before you go. You can find links to it here.

THAT OTHER DAMN BRIDGE

The third thing in the news this week is a notice from Bureau of Land Management that it is “seeking public comments regarding an application to authorize an existing single-lane ranch bridge over the Little Missouri River, with an associated access road, in Dunn County.”

You read that right. An application to authorize an existing bridge.

This is the bridge I’ve written about before, built by rancher Wiley Bice, west of Killdeer, on BLM land without BLM permission. The BLM knew nothing about this bridge on its land until I told them about it last year, even though it had been there for a few years. Bice also planted alfalfa on BLM land without permission.

In February, I filed a Freedom of Information Act request to see the application Bice submitted for this bridge, but even though the government is compelled by law to give me that application, it refuses to do so. Now I’ve received a letter asking me to comment on an application I have not seen.

I’ve pretty much lost patience with the BLM. Noted author Ed Abbey called it the Bureau of Livestock and Mines. A friend of mine in Montana called it the Bureau of Leasing and Mining. Both were pretty accurate. I know the BLM has been busy with an oil boom in North Dakota, although it hasn’t been booming so much the last couple of years, but it is apparent to me that it doesn’t even go out and look at its land to see what is going on.

I’m pretty sure no one had looked at the parcel that Wiley Bice built his bridge on — and planted alfalfa on — and built a road on, for more than five years. They’re the Bureau of Land MANAGEMENT. How can it MANAGE our public lands if it never goes look at it to see who’s abusing it?

Anyway, according to this letter, if you go to this website you will find all you need to know — not really, just all they want you to know — about this project, and how to comment. You have until Aug. 13 to respond. I have no idea what will happen after that.

Well, actually, I kind of do. The BLM will conduct an Environmental Assessment (a little bit cheaper version of the document Billings County did for their bridge) on the project, and then tell Bice to go ahead and build his bridge. Oh, wait, it’s already built. Never mind.

In a separate letter I found a copy of Tuesday, North Dakota BLM manager Loren Wikstrom writes that the alternatives being considered in the EA are:

  1. Take no action (leave the bridge, road, pond, and alfalfa fields on the land as-is). This would not achieve the project purpose, but the BLM will analyze the effects to serve as a baseline;
  2. Remove the bridge, road, pond, and alfalfa fields and rehabilitate the public land to a condition similar to that of the surrounding public land.
  3. Sell or exchange the affected public land to the adjacent landowner;
  4. Authorize the bridge, road and pond through rights-of-way, and the alfalfa fields through a lease; and
  5. Authorize only the bridge and access road through a right-of-way, remove the pond and alfalfa fields and rehabilitate the public land. In the event a right-of-way for the bridge and road are granted by the BLM, the site would still remain inaccessible to the public, via road, due to the lack of public roads to the site.

Loren has already told me that No. 5 is their preferred alternative, and that they’re not looking to make Bice  tear down a bridge that cost a couple of million dollars. He’s also told me they are making Bice pay for the cost of the EA and the reclamation. No big deal to Bice. As I wrote here earlier, he sold his oilfield trucking company for about $100 million. This is small change for him.

So I wouldn’t waste time writing letters to the BLM about this. It’s a done deal. A rich guy builds a bridge on public land, gets his hands slapped and lives happily ever after. That’s how the Bureau of Land Management manages your land.

Anyway, those three things are a pretty good indicator that there are still plenty of threats to North Dakota’s Bad Lands. So many it’s hard to keep track. I’ll try to write about each of them as things progress. Somebody has to keep an eye on these bastards.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Who Wants To Invest In A Refinery? Here’s How You Can Do It

I wrote here a couple of weeks go about the beginning of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, created by Congress in 1947, and about the proposed oil refinery that threatens it, a refinery that has now been issued a permit by the state of North Dakota to build the dang thing.

It’s been 70 years since Congress declared that this place in the North Dakota Bad Lands should be protected forever as a national park. Now this California company, Meridian Energy Group Inc., a startup company with no experience building or running a refinery, says it’s going to build a refinery just three miles from the park, alongside the road that runs into Medora.

I want to look at this more carefully. I don’t trust them.

On Jan. 27, 2017, Meridian Energy Group Inc. issued what it called a “Confidential Private Placement Offering” which began:

“Meridian Energy Group, Inc. (‘Meridian’or the ‘Company’) is a closely-held South Dakota corporation that will construct and operate the Davis Refinery, a 55,000 barrel per day high conversion crude oil refinery on a 715-acre site in Billings County, near Belfield, North Dakota, in the heart of the Bakken formation.”

Don’t be fooled by the “South Dakota” in there. They might be incorporated there for tax purposes, but these guys are from Texas and California. And pay special attention to the number 55,000. That’s important. I’ll talk about that in a minute.

And don’t be fooled by the words “Confidential Private Placement Offering” label on the prospectus. I went digging around the Internet and found it for myself, although I bet Meridian is not happy about that, and it may disappear pretty soon, unless the word “confidential” is just another sham put out there by this sleazy company — more about shams in a minute, too.

The first thing you notice in the prospectus, right there in the third line, is that Merdian is selling stock in a refinery that is going to process 55,000 barrels of oil per day. Somebody at Meridian didn’t do their homework. When North Dakota Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak and her fellow commissioners heard about this, they said, “Wait a minute. North Dakota state law says if you are going to process more than 50,000 barrels per day, you have to come to us and let us do a comprehensive site review to determine if that is really a good place to put an oil refinery.”

“Oh, dang,” Meridian responded. “That was a mistake. We didn’t mean 55,000. We meant 49,500 barrels per day. That’s our story, and we’re sticking to it.”

Except that the prospectus is still there, online, selling stock in a refinery that Meridian says is going to process 55,000 barrels per day.

So in spite of that, as I pointed out here a week or so ago, there will be no site review (as of now), which if one took place, would probably determine that this is NOT a good place to put a refinery.

Dang!

Our Health Department has decided that the unproven technology planned for this refinery might — just might because there’s no way to know until it is built and operating — meet federal air quality standards (this is North Dakota, after all, and we’ll plant big wet kisses on the ass of any oil company executive who shows up here with a fat checkbook). So I guess there’s nothing left to do but watch a refinery go up beside Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Except there is one other possibility. I said earlier I don’t trust Meridian. And I’m not alone. I’ve had more than one person mention in casual conversations, including some people in pretty high positions, that this whole deal sounds suspicious. The project has a price tag of close to a billion dollars, but the stock offering is for only $30 million. Now that Meridian has the permit, it has to find a bank willing to lend it at least three-quarters of a billion dollars. Again, as I mentioned, on unproven technology. Would a bank really do that? What’s the collateral on that if this falls through? A refinery that doesn’t work?

I asked Gov. Doug Burgum if he wouldn’t mind asking his State Securities commissioner, Karen Tyler, to take a look at the prospectus and see if they think this is all on the up and up. I mean, the state does have some responsibility to help protect investors in big deals like this in our state. Apparently he did that. Here’s what his spokesman Mike Nowatzki told me the other day:

“Commissioner Tyler informs me that Meridian is utilizing a federal securities registration exemption under Regulation D Rule 506(c) of the 33 Act. This federal exemption requires that they only accept investments from Accredited Investor — income of $200,000 to $300,000 or net worth of $1 million excluding primary residence.  The exemption largely pre-empts state securities regulatory authority. The Securities Department can require that Meridian put the department on notice that it is soliciting and selling in the state (Note: Meridian has done that), and Securities’ anti-fraud authority is preserved, but it does not have the authority to opine upon and set requirements for their offering documents.”  (emphasis added)

Well, how convenient. Is there any loophole in the law this sleazy company won’t find?

Would I be surprised if I learned down the road, in a few months, that this company never really intended to build an oil refinery here? No, I would not. In fact, I’d be willing to bet all my shares in the company that there’s at least a 50-50 chance this whole thing is a big stock scam designed to make some quick bucks for a few executives and board members.

On the very first page of the “confidential” prospectus, there’s a line that says the total stock offering is for $30 million, but up to 25 percent — $7.5 million — can be used for “cost of issuance,” including “compensation paid to employees of Meridian.” From what I can tell from its website, that might be about a dozen or so people on the “management team” and a few clerical staff dividing up $7.5 million dollars.

But then it also says, “Management’s Discretionary Control over Proceeds — Although the Company anticipates that it will apply the net proceeds of its financing as described herein, Management will have complete discretionary control over the utilization of the funds and there can be no assurance as to the manner or time in which said funds will be utilized.”

So that management team can pay themselves way more than $7.5 million. It can use it all. Good grief. Who would invest in a company like this? Ummmm, maybe somebody looking for a tax write-off?

Well, if it’s a scam, too bad for the investors, but good for us. Except I’m not willing to take a chance. I’m going to keep talking and writing about it. Because if Meridian is serious, and we fail to stop it, shame on us. It will the most egregious example of failed leadership in the history of our state.

I hope Gov. Burgum doesn’t want that to be his legacy.

P.S. Here’s an “Important Notice” from page 3 of Meridian’s “confidential” offering:

“This memorandum contains certain information of a highly confidential and proprietary nature. The receipt of this memorandum constitutes an agreement on the part of the recipient hereof to maintain the confidentiality of the information contained herein or any additional information subsequently delivered in connection herewith. Prospective investors who accept this memorandum or become aware of the information contained herein must understand and comply with the extensive federal and state securities law restrictions placed upon their ability to disclose information contained herein to others or to participate in or otherwise effect or facilitate any transactions relating to any securities of the company. Prospective investors who cannot comply fully with such restrictions should not review the information contained herein and should immedialtely (sic) return this memorandum to the offeror.”

Yikes! Well, golly, I’m not a prospective investor, so I guess I can share that much with you, but I won’t tell you anything else that’s in it because I don’t want to take a chance on going to the pokey. But if you’re interested, and maybe want to invest a buck or two (and if you make 300 grand a year and have a million bucks in the bank you’d like to gamble), just click here and you can read it yourself. Oh, and if it’s disappeared by the time you read this, don’t worry — I’ve got a PDF. Just send me an e-mail and I’ll send it to you.

This story is an edited version of a story that appears in the July 2018 issue of Dakota Country magazine.  It’s a magazine you should be reading. You can subscribe here.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Republicans Raising Taxes In North Dakota? Yep, They Did That

Wait a minute.

Wait A Minute!

WAIT A MINUTE!

What the heck is going on here?

The North Dakota Legislature raised your taxes, and everybody’s cheering!

The cheerleaders?

Republicans: Gov. Doug Burgum, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger.

Democrats: Sen.. Heidi Heitkamp, Tax Commissioner candidate Kylie Overson.

The chant: “A victory for North Dakota’s retailers!”

Screw that.

OK, I’m going off on a rant here.

I’m talking about last week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that states (including North Dakota) can collect sales taxes from Internet retailers. So now, states that have a law in place can immediately begin collecting sales tax on the books we purchase from used booksellers, or shoes we buy from Zappo’s, or a CD from Amazon, or printer ink cartridges we buy from Canon, or refrigerator filters we buy from Sears.

North Dakota has such a law. It’s a pretty new one, thanks to the passage of Senate Bill 2298 in the 2017 Legislature, which said that if the Supreme Court should ever rule in favor of allowing states to collect sales taxes on Internet purchases, North Dakota will do it.

In the North Dakota Senate, all 47 senators — 38 Republicans and nine Democrats — voted for it. In the House, 56 Republicans and 12 Democrats voted for it, while 22 Republicans and one Democrat voted against it. Republican Gov. Doug Burgum signed it into law. That’s the law that just raised your taxes.

A major tax increase passed with not so much as a whimper. Of course, the tax increase had a “trigger” (sound familiar?): it only took effect if the Supreme Court justices said it could. They did. Last week.

The decision was hailed nationally as a “victory for brick-and-mortar businesses that have been complaining for years that they are at a disadvantage by having to charge sales taxes while their online competitors don’t.”

And the states complained they were missing out on billions of dollars in revenue. One of the newspaper stories I read about this past week quoted a fellow from something called the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy as saying, “State and local governments have really been dealing with a nightmare scenario for several years now.”

Oh cry me a river. No one is going to change their shopping habits because they have to pay sales tax — an extra 5 percent or so.

People shop online because they can get exactly what they want, which is not always the case locally, usually at a substantially lower price than if they bought it locally, and have it delivered to their door, in a matter of days.

Paying an extra 5 percent sales tax, when they’re saving 20 to 30 percent — or more — is not going to deter them.

What all these politicians who are raving about this as being a huge boon to their state’s treasuries fail to mention is that it is not big online retailers who pay these taxes.

IT’S US!

We pay them.

“This is a long overdue victory for our local retailers,” says Gov. Burgum.

“I’m absolutely thrilled,” says Heidi Heitkamp, a former North Dakota tax commissioner and attorney general.

“I’m glad the Supreme Court was able to recognize the unfair advantage online retailers have,” said Rauschenberger.

Well, I call bullshit!

This is nothing more than an increase in the most unfair tax we pay, and it hits lower and middle-income families the hardest. Low-income families spend most of their paychecks, and yes, if they can buy products cheaper online than in local stores they do that. (Note: A lot of us old folks who don’t like driving in traffic or parking at the mall do it, too.)

But they’re not doing it because they don’t get charged taxes. You bought ink for your home printer lately? Eighty dollars at Staples or Best Buy. Twenty dollars online. That’s why people shop online. They’re not disloyal to their hometown merchants. They’re simply trying to make ends meet.

On top of all that, the North Dakota Legislature has been cutting taxes on big corporations and has slashed billions in revenue from oil companies in the past four years. That new sales tax law passed in 2017 means that a family scraping by on $40,000 a year — and there are lots of them in North Dakota — gets a tax increase. Meanwhile, that same North Dakota Legislature gave Harold Hamm’s oil company a multimillion dollar tax cut.

I’ve been arguing for years with my Democratic-NPL friends in the Legislature, to no avail, that with all the oil tax revenue we could collect, they should be introducing bills to CUT sales taxes.

“We need the revenue for schools and Medicaid,” they counter. Well, yeah, but how about getting it from big corporations and oil companies and not from poor families in the checkout line?

C’mon, Democrats. Introduce a bill to cut sales taxes. There are only 22 of you in the whole damn Legislature — and 119 Republicans. Make them vote against cutting taxes. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll be too embarrassed — or even principled — to do that.

We’ve got $7 billion or $8 billion in the bank. We’re not poor. Use oil taxes to pay for schools instead of raising taxes on moms and dads working two jobs to just put shoes on their kids’ feet.

I talked to one of the legislators who voted against SB 2298. He agreed that the sales tax hits the working class families the hardest. And he also pointed out that we have a lot of our own online retailers right here in North Dakota, and this could be a nightmare for them.

Our law says they have to collect sales taxes if they conduct more than 200 transactions a year, or have sales of more than $100,000. Well, that puts our online retailers between a rock and a hard place. First, they’re going to have to spend some money ramping up to collect the taxes and send them to the state. Then, let’s say they figure there’s no way they’re going to exceed $100,000 in sales, so they don’t charge the tax, and then right at the end of the year, they have a Christmas rush in sales and end up with 210 customers, or someone comes along and makes a big purchase, pushing them over $100,000. Now what?

Or let’s say they expect to have a pretty good year, so they charge the tax, and then end up not reaching 200 sales, or $100,000. Now what?

This whole deal just sucks. The Supreme Court decision doesn’t mandate states collect the tax. It just allows them to collect the tax. I think North Dakota shouldn’t do it. We’re already one of the richest states in the country. If we need more money, the only tax we should be raising is the tax on oil. Not a consumer tax.

Rauschenberger says he’ll collect up to $30 million a year under the new law. But not from online companies — from us. We’ll be paying it. Although those retailers are going to have to do a lot more technology and paperwork, which might mean they have to raise the prices on stuff we buy. A double whammy on consumers.

By the way, that $30 million would be 5 percent of online sales. That means North Dakotans must be spending $600 million a year online. I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around that. I’m wondering if the tax commissioner didn’t just make something up, pull a number out of his ass. There’s been a lot of that going around lately.

Anyway, if my choice is to pay $20 for ink for my printer online, or $80 here in town, that 5 percent tax doesn’t make a bit of difference to me. I’ll still order it online. So tell me how this ruling helps local retailers. Does that make any sense to anyone?

Well, anyone except greedy government officials, who just can’t see a downside to this?

I read somewhere that the cuts the Republicans made to the oil tax in 2015 are costing the state something like $15 million a month. So we cut taxes for those who can most afford them and increase taxes on those who can least afford them.

A victory for North Dakota retailers? Bullshit. It’s a $30 million loss for North Dakota consumers. And it really pisses me off.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — ‘I So Declare It!’

My day started out OK this morning. My pillbox told me it was Thursday — it’s always nice to know what day of the week it is right away in the morning. I had a pretty good bowel movement — for you young readers, that‘s pretty important for someone my age. I got my belt through every belt loop but one and got my shoes on without untying them.

And then it all went to hell, when I opened the paper to see the headline screaming from the front page: “Davis Refinery permit approved.”

Yikes!

I turned the paper face down on the kitchen counter so it wouldn’t be the first thing Lillian saw before she even had a sip of coffee. And then I went and sat down on the patio and sipped my coffee and looked at the beautiful, clear blue sky over North Dakota and thought to myself, “What kind of monsters would want to do this — put an oil refinery right next to Theodore Roosevelt National Park? And what kind of state regulators would permit that to happen?”

And who, at the highest level of North Dakota state government, will step in and say, “No. We’re not going to let you do that.”

Surely, Doug Burgum, you have a soul. Surely you won’t let this happen on your watch. Surely, you don’t want this to be your legacy.

Let me ask you this, Gov. Burgum:

  • Would the state of Wyoming allow an oil refinery to be built three miles from Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park?
  • Would Montana put a refinery three miles from the Going To The Sun Highway in Glacier National Park?
  • Would Alaska permit a refinery at the base of Mount Denali? Well, maybe, Alaska is an even bigger whore to the oil industry than North Dakota. But let’s not give them any ideas.

These places — Yellowstone, Glacier, Denali, and yes, Theodore Roosevelt — these national parks are our national treasures. There are only 59 of them. The federal government — our elected Congress members and senators — agreed to protect these most spectacular places in our states, passing laws that said, “We’ll take care of what’s inside these park boundaries. Now you, people of these states, you take care to not let anything mess them up from the outside.”

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is the only national park in America named for a president of the United States — in fact the only national park named for a person. That’s how revered Theodore Roosevelt is. He was afforded this honor because of his great conservation record, which includes setting aside more than 230 million acres of public land during his presidency from 1901 to 1909.

He didn’t set aside the land where Theodore Roosevelt National Park is today. That was done by Congress in 1947, to honor him. But he lived and ranched there and developed his strong conservation ethic there and said if it was not for the time he spent in the North Dakota Badlands, he never would have been president of the United States.

The National Parks Conservation Association, a national parks watchdog group, has suggested that the Health Department attach a condition to the permit — perfectly allowable in the law — requiring the refinery to undergo a PSC site review. Here’s a story with some background on that.

I asked an official with the Health Department a couple of weeks ago if they were considering attaching such a condition. He responded, “We will address the PSC siting review issue in our response to comments, which will be made available upon completion of the document.”

They did that. In response to comments requesting them to attach the condition of a site review by the PSC (you can take a look at the Health Department’s response here–look at Comment 3), the Health Department said:

“Imposing a condition in the permit to construct requiring PSC siting would not be reasonable because a permit to construct is intended to address air pollution-related issues, not siting issues. See N.D.A.C. § 33-15-14-02(9) (authorizing the Department to impose “reasonable conditions” in a permit to construct). Concerns regarding the PSC’s requirements must be addressed to the PSC.”

Well, that’s complete and total bullshit.

I did go “see N.D.A.C. § 33-15-14-02(9).” It says:

“The department may impose any reasonable conditions upon a permit to construct, including …” and then it goes on to list various things, like

  • 1. Sampling, testing, and monitoring of the facilities or the ambient air or both.
  • 2. Trial operation and performance testing.
  • 3. Prevention and abatement of nuisance conditions caused by operation of the facility.
  • 4. Recordkeeping and reporting.
  • 5. Compliance with applicable rules and regulations in accordance with a compliance schedule.
  • 6. Limitation on hours of operation, production rate, processing rate, or fuel usage when necessary to assure compliance with this article.

Well, I guess I could make a pretty good case that any refinery operating beside a national park could create “nuisance conditions,” for the park, but that should not be necessary. There’s nothing in 33-15-02(9) that says they cannot require a PSC review. They could certainly attach that condition and let Meridian challenge it in court, if they want to.

I am reminded of a story about Theodore Roosevelt. When he heard that yachtsmen in Palm Beach, Fla., were shooting brown pelicans for sport as the ponderous birds flew to their nests on a small island not far away, Roosevelt asked an aide, “Is there any law that will prevent me from declaring Pelican Island a federal bird reservation?”

“No,” the aide replied. “The island is federal property.”

“Very well, then, I so declare it.”

And that was the birth of our National Wildlife Refuge system.

If there’s nothing in state law preventing the Health Department from attaching specific conditions to a construction permit, then it should “so declare it.”

Or, if Meridian wants to be a good North Dakota corporate citizen (yeah right) they could simply comply and go through a site review, like every other major energy conversion facility in our state has done, and using the best legal and scientific methods, find out if this is really a good place for a refinery.

That’s what should happen, Gov. Burgum. Those folks over at the Health Department work for you. Call them up and insist that they attach a condition for building that refinery next to our national park requiring Meridian to go through a PSC site review. As I have written here before, there is precedent for that.

Way back in 1974, in the face of a massive development of coal gasification facilities and coal-fired electricity generating plants, with the state lacking laws to regulate things like pollution and mined-land reclamation, Gov. Art Link and his state Water Commission attached a set of conditions to water permits granted to Michigan Wisconsin Pipeline Co. and a pair of Minnesota electric cooperatives, United Power Association (UPA) and Cooperative Power Association requiring them to take substantive measures to guard against pollution and land destruction. Those conditions, later adopted by the Legislature, became what are still today, I think, the strictest land reclamation laws in the country.

The companies, of course, challenged the Water Commission’s right to attach the conditions. On behalf of the Link administration, then-State Tax Commissioner Byron Dorgan asked Attorney General Allen Olson for an attorney general’s opinion on whether such conditions were legal. Dorgan wrote:

“I know that the Water Commission and the Governor are attaching these conditions in order to provide the best possible protection for North Dakotans as a result of the approval of these projects.

“The conditions are designed to make certain that developments of the type that were approved are subject to very stringent regulations in order to protect North Dakota’s quality of life.

“However, if these conditions should not be able to stand the test of a court challenge, then we are all living with a false sense of security about these conditions.

“For this reason, I believe that the Water Commission and more importantly, the people of North Dakota, should have the opinion of the Attorney General whether the imposition of conditions attached to water permits is legally binding action that the Water Commission has the authority to take.”

Olson wrote in his opinion:

“It is our opinion that the conditions on the Michigan-Wisconsin Pipeline Company and United Power Association/Cooperative Power Association Conditional Water Permits granted by the State Engineer and approved by the State Water Commission are basically valid.”

Olson then went on to say “However, as in all such cases, the courts would make the final dispositive determination as a validity.” You can look at the full exchange here.

In the end, the courts did that. Link won his battle “to protect North Dakota’s quality of life.”

North Dakota’s leaders had balls in those days. It took a special kind of courage for Art Link and Byron Dorgan and Allen Olson to stand up to the industrial giants of their day and say “Not so fast. Let’s take a good look at this and make sure we’re doing it right.”

In the end, we got a coal gasification plant, and some power plants, built under specific conditions that protected the environment. That’s the model Gov. Burgum needs to take a good hard look at.

We can have a refinery here if we want one. And I think we do. But we can put it somewhere else, down the road, not beside the national park named for the greatest conservation politician in the history of our country.

Let’s do that.

One more thing: Shortly before 7 a.m. this morning .I sent an e-mail to Mike Nowatzki, the governor’s press person, asking for 10 minutes with the governor today to talk about this. Here’s his response:

“The Governor is completely booked today with things that can’t be changed and is not available for an interview. Below is a quote you can attribute to him.

“The North Dakota Department of Health has determined that this project is expected to comply with all applicable federal and state air pollution rules and regulations and meets the requirements for a permit to construct. The project is going through the proper regulatory authorities as prescribed in North Dakota state law, and the Governor’s Office will continue to stay apprised of its progress.”

I wonder how Art Link,  Byron Dorgan and Allen Olson would feel about a response like that.

Finally, the entire document allowing Meridian Energy Group to build a refinery next to Theodore Roosevelt National Park is available online. You can go here to look at it.

You can also take a look at Meridian’s response to the public comments received by the Health Department in this document. Pay particular attention to its response to comment 4(e). The company has the nerve to say that there is more pollution from the cars visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park each year than there will be from the refinery. They even built a fancy chart purportedly showing how much tailpipe emissions are coming from the cars visiting the park.

Great! There’s a way to protect the park. Keep everyone out.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Hold On A Minute There, Al, The Peeping Tom Just Got 54,000 Votes

Just 24 days ago, Will Gardner, the Republican Party’s nominee for North Dakota secretary of state, announced he was dropping out of the race after news stories surfaced about him being arrested (and convicted) for peeking in windows at women’s dormitories at North Dakota State University.

You might have been a bit hasty there, Will. Republicans apparently don’t care about things like that. Because Tuesday, 54,000 of them voted to make you the next secretary of state anyway. In fact, you got 17,000 more votes than your party’s congressional nominee, Kelly Armstrong.

So, now what?

Al Jaeger, who holds the office now and has pledged to run for re-election as an independent this fall, is sitting in his office this morning, waiting for a letter from you. Because, ironically, in order to fulfill your pledge to drop out of the race, you have to send Al a letter telling him that.

So, Will, assuming you have time today to write that short letter saying you decline the Republican Party’s nomination for secretary of state, as given to you by 54,000 eager Republican voters Tuesday, put a stamp on an envelope and take it to the post office. It should arrive in Al’s mailbox Thursday.

Unless you’re busy today, and don’t get around to it for a few days, and then you start thinking “Well, gee, 54,000 Republicans want me to be their candidate …”

So what’s Al Jaeger to do? Call up Will Gardner and say, “Hey, Will, I’ve got to get out there and get a thousand signatures on my petitions. You gonna send me that letter pretty soon?”

We’ll see. If I were Al Jaeger, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

In other election news, weird shit happened in Bismarck on Tuesday. I don’t remember the last time an incumbent Bismarck mayor got defeated for re-election — it may have happened in my lifetime here, but I don’t recall — but it happened Tuesday.

Bismarck voters chose a rompin’, stompin’ cowboy over a mayor I think they perceived as a bit of a weenie, ignoring the fact that their new mayor, Steve Bakken, has a rap sheet that includes bankruptcies, drunk driving arrests, judgments for unpaid bills and state taxes and getting fired from at least two jobs for “inappropriate behavior.” That’s the new mayor of North Dakota’s Capitol City.  Yikes!

But then, these are the same voters who chose a girls bicycle seat-sniffing window peeper as their candidate for secretary of state, so what’s the surprise? Voters in Bismarck gave the rebel Bakken 6,300 votes for mayor, roughly the same number they gave Will Gardner for secretary of state. I’m guessing they were pretty much the same people voting for the two of them.

So, as far as the Republicans being the party of “values,” forget about that. I mean, they elected a pussy-grabbing president. Not much surprises me anymore. I’d say the Democrats better get their shit together one of these days. We get the government we deserve.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — My Last Story Ever About Duane Sand (I Hope) — Redux

NOTE: I didn’t think I would see Duane Sand’s name on a ballot again — boy was I naive — but here he is, showing up on the District 47 Legislative Primary Election ballot Tuesday and duking it out with the Republican establishment, which once embraced him and ran him for Congress a couple of times. I wrote a story about  his campaign finance shenanigans back in July 2016, under the headline “My Last Story Ever About Duane Sand (I Hope).” So I thought I would just revisit that story and do a rerun here. It’s still my last story about Duane — nothing new — I’m just sharing it one more time for your reading pleasure. Or disgust.

CAMPAIGN DEBTS, WIDOWS AND CONSERVATIVES

As I have reported here before, Duane Sand’s campaign for the U.S. Senate in 2012 raised more than a million dollars, most of it through direct mail, using a shady Washington D.C., mail firm well-known for sending out lots of letters and keeping most of the money.

When Duane ended his short-lived 2012 campaign (he lost in the primary to Rick Berg), he was in debt to the mail house, so he kept on raising money. Or rather, they kept on raising money for him. He didn’t really have to do anything. A company called Base Connect just kept cranking out letters to conservative mailing lists. By the end of the year they hit the $1 million mark, but most of it, probably 85 to 90 percent, stayed with Base Connect and its affiliated companies.

As I explained earlier, they did everything for Duane, from conceptualizing and printing a fundraising brochure, to writing the fundraising letter, to buying the mailing lists, to printing the letters, addressing and stuffing the envelopes, affixing postage and hauling them to the post office. And picking up the mail with the responses in them, and depositing the money in Duane’s account. All Duane had to do was lend them his name. But then most of the money went right back to them in fees and mailing expenses.

There have been a lot of stories written about this company. None of them full of praise. Google them.

So when Duane filed his 2012 FEC report (actually, another affiliate of Base Connect, a fellow named Scott Mackenzie, who called himself Duane’s “Campaign Treasurer,” filed it for him), it showed that he was in debt $92,714 at the end of 2012 — almost all of that to Base Connect and its affiliates.

Duane really didn’t do much about that for a couple of years, but there’s a funny thing about FEC reports: As long as there is an outstanding debt by the candidate or his committee, they have to keep filing reports. Four reports a year, in April, July, October and at the end of the year.

So even though Duane has not been on the ballot for more than four years (he lost the Primary in June of 2012), he is still filing those reports. Or rather, Scott Mackenzie is. Each report filed quarterly between 2012 and the end of 2015 showed that debt of $92,000 to Base Connect and its affiliates.

But then on his 2015 year-end FEC report, filed in January of this year, those debts mysteriously disappeared. The companies wrote them off as bad debts. The reason: at the same time, Base Connect itself disappeared.

But the people working for Base Connect didn’t disappear. They reappeared in another incarnation: ForthRight Strategy. Same owners, same address, same phone number. Just a new name. The name Base Connect had become so notorious they had to get a new identity.

Here is what happened in Duane’s case. Base Connect and its affiliates just kept mailing and mailing and mailing, all the way through 2012, even though Duane’s campaign was over June 12, when he lost the primary. And the bills kept piling up for those mailings. Highly inflated bills. But finally the money quit flowing.

So when it was all over, Base Connect and its affiliates had raised a million dollars, and had invoices showing Duane still owed them about $90,000 for their services. Even though they had already taken almost all the money from the people who sent it in.

Well, Duane had the good sense not to pay them out of his own pocket. He outlasted them. When they shut down their business and reopened with a new name in 2015, the debts disappeared with the old name. At the very end of the 2015 FEC Report, Treasurer Mackenzie wrote: “The Committee contacted vendors to confirm the outstanding balance and was told there were no outstanding balances for Base Connect, Legacy List Marketing Inc., or Century Data Systems Corp. Therefore the balances were zeroed out …”

Just like that. Actually, it was a phony statement because Mackenzie is part of the Base Connect network, so he was just talking to himself and his partners. They all agreed there was never going to be money to collect from Duane, so they wrote it off.

But at the same time as almost $90,000 in debts to the fundraising companies disappeared, almost $60,000 in personal debts appeared on his 2015 report. $12,000 of that debt was to himself — money he lent the campaign to pay his legal bills for his North Dakota court case, which I wrote about back in April. The rest was in smaller amounts, mostly in the $2,500 range, to more than 20 people around the country. I puzzled over that for a while, until I finally put the answer together.

VIOLATIONS OF FEC RULES 

The prospect list run by Base Connect turned up some wealthy folks. Nearly two dozen people sent more money to Duane than the law allowed. In the 2012 election cycle, the limit on contributions to federal candidates was $2,500 per election: $2,500 for the primary, $2,500 for the general. A couple of dozen people sent $5,000 in separate checks of $2,500, one for each election. Except that Duane lost the primary, so he wasn’t on the ballot in the general. So he was only allowed to keep $2,500 of that. He had to return the other $2,500.

Because Duane never really saw the money, and likely never even read his FEC reports filed by Mackenzie, he likely didn’t even know there was a problem. Maybe he didn’t even know the rules.

But MacKenzie and the folks at Base Connect did. And they were careless or greedy, and not only kept the contributions, but reported them to the FEC. Somebody at the FEC was watching. And three times during 2012, Duane’s treasurer, Mackenzie, received letters from the FEC telling them some individuals had exceeded the limit, and the money had to be refunded or reallocated (by reallocated, that could mean putting some of it in a spouse’s name, for example).

So here’s what Mackenzie did: Almost everything each donor gave over the legal limit was re-listed in a new FEC report as a “debt.” In other words, if someone gave Duane $5,000, he owed them a refund of $2,500. That got listed as a debt. There were a bunch of those. Debts show up on FEC reports. And the FEC apparently was satisfied with that arrangement. A promise to pay was good as a refund, at least for the time being.

The most recent report is for the first quarter of 2016, signed by Mackenzie on April 14, 2016. In that report there are still at least 20 people who are owed money by the campaign, in amounts ranging from $300 to $5,000, all of whom donated to Duane’s campaign in amounts exceeding $2,500. The total amount comes to about $43,000.

So what’s been done is that instead of refunding the excess amounts, the campaign shifted about $43,000 to “debts” instead of “gifts.” No doubt the excess gifts went to the fundraising companies, which kept most of the money that was raised. But the company is gone now.  And guess who’s stuck for it? Yep. Duane.

Maybe Duane intends to pay them back sometime. We’ll see. He still lists a $5,000 debt to his Bismarck lawyer, Deborah Carpenter, plus the $12,000 loan he made to his campaign in 2014, for total debts to individuals now standing at about $60,000. The campaign is more than four years gone now, so raising any money from donors to pay those debts seems unlikely.

It will be interesting to see how he solves this. I almost feel sorry for him. He got taken, big time, by those Washington slicksters. They should have refunded the money to the donors immediately after the primary campaign ended in June 2012. Instead, they pocketed it, leaving Duane holding the bag. But Duane’s a big boy, and he likes playing politics, and sometimes bad things come of that. Really bad. Like a $60,000 debt.

And it HAS to be paid back because, technically, those donors gave Duane more than the law allowed, and technically, he “spent” it. Never mind that he never saw a penny of it. Friends of Duane Sand, his campaign committee, is responsible for returning excess contributions. Except there’s no money to pay it back.

If you would like an example of how he came to exceed the limits received from some donors, here’s the list on the FEC report for a lady in Georgia, Jane Pelham Doyle. Jane donated $4,375 to Duane in 2011-12. That’s $1,875 over the limit of $2,500. Here’s her giving history to the Sand Campaign:

2011-2012 Contributions to Duane Sand for June, 2012 Primary Election

Doyle, Jane W Pelham 9/6/2011 $100

Doyle, Jane W Pelham 9/20/2011 $50

Doyle, Jane W Pelham 9/28/2011 $100

Doyle, Jane W Pelham 11/8/2011 $135

Doyle, Jane W Pelham 11/23/2011 $135

Doyle, Jane W Pelham 12/19/2011 $170

Doyle, Jane W Pelham 12/22/2011 $35

Doyle, Jane W Pelham 1/19/2012 $202.50

Doyle, Jane W Pelham 2/6/2012 $203

Doyle, Jane W Pelham 3/1/2012 $203

Doyle, Jane W Pelham 3/16/2012 $250

Doyle, Jane 4/2/2012 $305

Doyle, Jane W Pelham 4/17/2012 $250

Doyle, W Pelham 5/9/2012 $305

Doyle, Jane W Pelham 6/4/2012 $100

Doyle, Jane W Pelham 6/8/2012 $458

Doyle, Jane W Pelham 6/18/2012 $458

Doyle, Jane W Pelham 7/6/2012 $458

Doyle, Jane W Pelham 8/17/2012 $458

Total in 2011-2012: $4,375

The FEC report shows that the campaign owes her $1,875. But sadly, Jane passed away this spring, on March 2, at the age of 92. I guess that’s one way to get rid of the debt. She’s still listed as a creditor on the April FEC report. Probably the estate hadn’t been settled by then. She’d only been dead a month. I’m not sure if Duane sent a sympathy card.

Most of the rest of those listed are also in their 80s and 90s. It’s a waiting game from here on out, I guess. We’ll see just how patient the FEC is about these kinds of things.

Here’s one more example. Susan Brunoff, age 87, New Holland, Pa., contributed $5,325. The FEC report shows Duane owes her $2,825.

2011-2012 Contributions to Duane Sand for June, 2012 Primary Election

Brunoff, Susan Mrs 12/20/2011 $100

Brunoff, Susan Valeria Mrs 1/16/2012 $225

Brunoff, Susan Mrs 2/6/2012 $500

Brunoff, Susan Valeria Mrs 2/28/2012 $225

Brunoff, Susan Mrs 3/26/2012 $100

Brunoff, Susan Valeria Mrs 4/13/2012 $338

Brunoff, Susan Valeria Mrs 5/8/2012 $338

Brunoff, Susan Mrs 5/22/2012 $500

Brunoff, Susan Valeria Mrs 5/31/2012 $499

Brunoff, Susan Valeria Mrs 6/14/2012 $676

Brunoff, Susan Mrs 7/6/2012 $500

Brunoff, Susan Mrs 7/31/2012 $500

Brunoff, Susan Mrs 8/17/2012 $500

Brunoff, Susan Mrs 9/13/2012 $324

Total in 2012: $5,325

OK, so you get the idea. Elderly women are being talked out of their money.

My guess is they are not all poor widows. Many are women of means. For example, Elloine Clark, the widow of a wealthy Texas lawyer who invested wisely in oil (isn’t that how all Texans get rich?), really overcontributed to Duane — she is listed as being owed $5,000 in Duane’s report. In the 2012 election, she contributed more than $334,000 to various candidates and PACs, according to FEC reports. And she gave another $311,000 in the 2014 election cycle.

And she’s still giving. She gave $100,000 to Carly Fiorina this year and smaller amounts to Bobby Jindal and Ted Cruz. The widow Clark told USA Today recently she likely will focus on contributing directly to the politicians she supports rather than filling up super PACs’ bank accounts. “I want my candidate to get the money,” she said. Plus, she added, “I’m not that wealthy. The price of oil is down.”

Well, you get the picture. I thought about calling Duane and asking him how he plans to resolve this, but he’s a busy man and I don’t want to bother him. I hope he figures it all out. I’m sure it’s no fun waking up every morning with something like this hanging over your head. Still, he liked waking up in the morning when he was a politician and seeing his name in the morning papers. I guess this is the price you pay for fame.

Meanwhile, I hope someone finds a way to put those folks at Forthright Strategy (formerly Base Connect) in the pokey one of these days. They deserve it. If you want to read some shocking things, go look at their website.

Here’s a couple of examples: They ran the fundraising campaign for South Dakota U.S. Senate candidate Dr. Annette Bosworth in 2014. They brag on their website that they raised $2,031,004 (exactly) for her campaign and gave her $500,000 of it, keeping a million and a half for themselves. For former Florida Congressman Allen West they raised $2,513,304, and sent the congressman $475,379 of that. The rest went for “expenses.” There’s a whole list of these. It’ll leave you shaking your head. It did me.  Because these conservatives fall for it. The candidates mostly don’t win, but they sure have a fun time playing politics. And what the heck, most of those widows are rich anyway.

I know I said this is my last story ever about Duane Sand, but if he ever gets those debts paid off, I’ll report in.

One last note: The latest FEC report for Friends of Duane Sand 2012, which you can look at here to see what I am talking about, lists an address of 418 Rosser Ave., Suite 100, Bismarck, N.D. 58502, the same address the committee has been using since 2011. I have a friend who works in that building and who says Duane hasn’t been seen there in a while — a few years.

So I thought I’d check. Turns out the sign on the door of that office says it is headquarters for the North Dakota Right To Life Association. Duane’s moved on. Not sure what the penalty is for giving the FEC a phony mailing address, but maybe the nice folks at Right To Life are forwarding his mail for him. Easier than going through that change of address thing.