JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — A Simple Request To The Governor: Let’s Get Technical

Dear Gov. Burgum,

I am writing to you today about transparency. Transparency in government. Transparency in North Dakota government. Transparency in North Dakota government as it relates to our environment and environmental protection. You’ve said often you believe in transparency. Here’s a chance to prove it.

You’re a new governor this year, and you come from the world of high technology. You’ve got a couple of agencies that are operating at low technology. I’d like you to get them fixed. Because I’m not sure they aren’t trying to hide something from us by keeping their technology low. So I’m making two requests, Governor, to do a little technology upgrade.

The first is at the State Health Department. My friend, Darrell Dorgan, has been regularly critical of them for being too interested in the welfare of industry (read: Big Oil), at the expense of the environment. If you look at some of the stuff they do, you might think that’s the case. I’ve thought for a long time there are good people there who were being leaned on by Govs. Hoeven and Dalrymple to be friendly to Big Oil because that industry, with its boom, was punching their meal tickets during much of their administrations.

The jury’s still out on you, Doug Burgum. Will you let this agency operate as it should? Officially, they are our state’s representatives and enforcers for the United States Environmental Protection Agency, charged with enforcing federal and state environmental regulations. But those regulations sometimes get in the way of the oil industry, and Hoeven and Dalrymple didn’t like that. I don’t know about you yet, Governor. You’re of their political party, but I don’t know if you’re of their ilk. I’ll know better if you respond to my two technology upgrade requests.

Here’s the first one.

The Health Department maintains a website database of what they call “Oilfield Environmental Incidents” in the oil patch. That’s bureaucratese for “spills.” It’s a big database, with records of more than 10,500 spills since Jan. 1, 2008. Quick math — an average of a little over a thousand spills a year for the last 10 years. Here’s the link to the website, so you can take a look for yourself.

If you go there, you’ll see a menu that lets you click on spills in the past 12 months, or spills occurring before that. If you go to one of those databases, you can click on the categories at the top, like the amount of oil spilled in each incident, or the amount of saltwater spilled, from the biggest spills to the smallest (you might have to click twice — they’re pretty cagey). You can click on the county link and find out how many of those incidents occurred in Billings County, or Williams County.

But what you can’t find out is how many of those spills were committed by a particular company. Because there’s no category for that. In order to find out who committed each spill, you have to click on every one of the 10,500 incident reports to find out what company is responsible for each spill.

I know from experience, for example, that there are a couple of companies, Oasis and Denbury, which have been particularly bad violators. In fact, I once wrote on this blog that it was time to kick Denbury out of the state because it was so bad and careless. That was four years ago — Denbury is still here. Its most recent spill was Oct. 5 of this year, when oil and saltwater spilled onto a pasture near Bowman. Denbury still shows up in the database on a pretty regular basis. But you have to look at every incident report to find it. Eight hundred twenty-three incidents this year. So far.

The thing is, there’s really no way of knowing, without looking at all 10,000 incident reports, who the really bad operators are. And that’s the way the industry wants it. Finding out that Denbury or Oasis or Continental (seems to be the most recent bad company) has a hundred or 200 or more spills would just not be good publicity.

And the Health Department has acquiesced to their wishes. Or, more likely, someone in Gov. Hoeven or Gov. Dalrymple’s offices had sent word down to just leave that database the way it is. I talked off the record to a Health Department employee about a year ago and asked about this. He told me they wanted to fix it, and were going to ask for money from the Legislature in 2017 to make the database searchable. Obviously, that didn’t happen.

But now we’ve got a new governor, and he’s a techie! I bet, Governor, if you sent one of your former Microsoft programmers over to the Health Department, they could make that database searchable in 15 minutes. If that’s something you wanted done.

So that’s my first request, Gov. Burgum. Send someone to the Health Department and fix that database. They’re right over there on the second floor of the Judicial Wing of the Capitol Building. Heck, I bet they wouldn’t even have to go over there — they could probably do it from your office. Or from home.

So next time I write a story reporting that Belle Fourche Pipeline Co. is still trying to clean up its 175,000 gallon spill into Ash Coulee Creek last December, I can also find out how many other spills it made since then. Oops, bad example. That one’s not in the database.

See, sometimes whoever happens to be in charge at the moment in the Health Department will, instead of creating an incident report in the oilfield spills database for a particularly egregious spill, like the Ash Coulee one last winter, they’ll instead put it over into a DIFFERENT database, called “General Environmental Incidents.”

I’ve never been able to figure out why they did that for Ash Coulee because it was surely an “Oilfield Environmental Incident,” just like the one by Tesoro a couple of years ago, which spilled 20,600 barrels — 865,000 gallons — up in Mountrail County. The only thing I can figure out is that Tesoro only reported it spilled 750 barrels, so it got listed as an oilfield incident, until a Health Department official discovered two months later that it was really more than 20,000 barrels. Oops. I guess 750 barrel spills get logged in as oilfield incidents, and spills like the Ash Coulee one, at 4,200 barrels, don’t.

It sure is harder to keep track of those things when you have to look through different databases. Oh, yeah. I get it.

Anyway, Gov. Burgum, please put your programmer to work. Oh, and there’s one more thing I’d like you to take care of, while you’ve got your programmer available. That’s over at the State Water Commission website.

Since you’ve just signed a bill allowing industrial use of water from the Little Missouri State Scenic River (if you haven’t already done so, you could read Amy Dalrymple’s (no relation to Jack) story about this in the Bismarck Tribune by clicking here), and because there are a lot of us who love that river and are concerned about it, we would kind of like to be able to keep track of how many water permits are being issued to take fracking water from the river, and where they are, and how much water they are taking.

Well, the Water Commission, like the Health Department, also maintains a database on its website, called “Water Permits Database” (you can find it here — down toward the bottom of the page), and, in theory, you could get that information from that database. Except you can’t. Because those water permits are not in the database. I know because I know some of the people and companies who have been issued water permits, and they are not in the database.

Oh, the Water Commission does have a double-secret way to find out who has industrial water permits, but you have to be a pretty good detective to find it. Well, I did a little detective work, with some urging from Jan Swenson, executive director of Badlands Conservation Alliance, who kept telling me, “They don’t put it in the database, but it’s on the site, you just have to learn how to use the maps.”

Learn how to use the maps. Old dog, new trick. But I did it. It took me a few hours because it is well-hidden, so if you are nosy like me, I’m just going to give you a direct link (sort of) to go and look. Click here, and then go down to the bottom of the page and click on the artwork that says “Water Depots.” (Don’t click on the link that says Water Permits — you won’t find all the Little Missouri water permits there — only some of them.)

Once you’ve clicked on Water Depots, you have to figure out how to use the maps and the embedded database in them. First, you take a tutorial and learn to click on the little bar on the side of the page that says, “Show layers,” and then about half an hour or so later, you’ll find, for example, that a company named Streamline Water Services LLC has a permit to draw 233 million gallons of water (yes, you read that right) from the Little Missouri State Scenic River, on land owned by a rancher named Joe Schettler, between last December and next August. Your state engineer, Governor, has authorized one company to take more than 200 million gallons of water from the Little Missouri State Scenic River. Is there even that much water in the river, ever? Geez.

Joe Schettler’s Water Depot, in the center of the photo, hard against the Little Missouri State Scenic River at the top of the photo, courtesy of Google Earth. From here, the big trucks take water to the fracking sites.
Joe Schettler’s Water Depot, in the center of the photo, hard against the Little Missouri State Scenic River at the top of the photo, courtesy of Google Earth. From here, the big trucks take water to the fracking sites.

Streamline has built a big water depot on Schettler’s land, alongside the Little Missouri. Joe also just happens to be Dunn County’s representative on the Little Missouri State Scenic River Commission. I’m not sure if Schettler is a partner in the company, but one way or another, he’s making a lot of money from that water, which he gets pretty much for free — I think the water permit costs a couple hundred dollars.

But anyway, back to matters at hand. It would be pretty easy, Governor, for your Microsoft programmer to run those permits hidden on the map pages into the Water Permit Database, so we could keep track of them, instead of having to wander around that incredibly confusing map system. (I’m guessing, by the way, that the engineers over at the Water Commission are pretty disappointed that an English major like me could figure out how to get this information.)

So that’s my second request, Governor. As soon as you’ve got that Health Department database cleaned up, how about fixing the Water Commission database, too?

Thanks, in advance.

Jim

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — Potpourri

One of Us

The other day, I ran into a friend who wondered why I couldn’t get with the program, like the rest of the Republicans in my neck of the woods.

I explained I’m not really anti-Republican, I am pro-common sense. Since these days we are entitled to our own facts, along with entire networks to support them, please allow me my delusion.

Continuing with said delusion, I told my friend I actually appreciated real conservatives, like William F. Buckley and Barry Goldwater, both of whom are spinning in their graves so fast these days, you could use them for horizontal drilling.

My friend told me the reason nine out of 10 voters and four out of five dentists in the state supported Trump is “He’s one of us.” Which is why he wants to roll back the estate tax to save those of us with $5.49 million in the bank. Whew. Close call.

I can appreciate the way some folks are sticking with the president in the same way I appreciated the time my cat got one of those sticky mousetraps pasted to his fur.

Some people have veritable shrines to Trump in their yards, or on the sides of weathered barn buildings.

Me? I have a shrine to Melania in a more discreet location.

Because I don’t think we all have to wear our politics on our sleeves. Let mine remain a mystery to you.

Disavowing Harvey Weinstein

It’s been a good week for conservatives because they finally got a new liberal sleazeball to demonize in Harvey Weinstein.

Bill Clinton has been the standard bearer for quite a while. With occasional appearances by Anthony Weiner, who has the best political perv name of all time. At least, until Peter Dingleberry gets elected.

For quite some time, the party of family values has dominated the scandal category. I’m not saying sleaze doesn’t cut across party lines, it’s just that most liberals are too busy smoking pot, collecting welfare and hugging trees — treesexuals abound in the party — to get elected to anything. When Diane Feinstein, at 84 and running for office again, is one of the fresh faces of the Democratic Party, well, need I say more?

Conservative pundits have been licking their chops and are demanding liberals publicly disavow Weinstein. Taking bold leadership on the issue was President Trump, who said, “I’ve known Harvey Weinstein for a long time. I’m not at all surprised to see it.”

And now, a moment of silence for Irony, who died in that very moment. She is survived by two sisters, Hypocrisy and Obliviousness. Officiating at the service will be Congressman Tim Murphy.

It’s none of your business

Hypocrisy and Obliviousness were spotted in a meeting last week at the Fargo Public Library, when Govs. Doug Burgum and Mark Dayton, Sen. John Hoeven, Moorhead Mayor Del Rae Williams, Fargo Deputy Mayor Dave Piepkorn and Cass County commissioners Mary Scherlings and Chad Peterson held a closed-door meeting to discuss the $2.2 billion flood diversion project.

That’s $2.2 Billion, with a capital Bill. Your Bill.

North Dakota reporters have been kicked out of so many meetings lately you can identify them by the dusty footprints on their behinds. When EPA administrator Scott Pruitt held a meeting with Hoeven, Kevin Cramer and Burgum to discuss ways to keep oil companies from despoiling the state (Sarcasm is still alive), scribes were asked to leave the meeting.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been asked to leave a party after an invitation. After two beers, hosts invariably start rethinking things. And they always want the lampshade back.

Burgum, who is reinventing transparency, said about last week’s meeting, “The primary reason (for barring the taxpaying public) is, we want to make sure everybody in the room feels comfortable sharing their concerns.”

I have some concerns of my own. But you know me, I don’t feel comfortable sharing them in such a public forum.

Obviousness, who was not allowed in either, was, however, comfortable expressing her feelings in the hallway outside the door, which was guarded by burly bouncers.

“All I know is clowns and politicians perform better under a spotlight,” she told a fake news reporter, who stood through the interview because his butt was really sore.

“And we still have the First Amendment and Democracy, don’t we,” she continued.

The place went silent.

© Tony Bender, 2017

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Maybe The Governor Shouldn’t Send Engineers To Represent Him

“Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it,” the wise man said. And you might not like what you get, I might add.

That’s what I was thinking about four hours into last week’s second meeting of the newly reconstituted Little Missouri Scenic River Commission. I’ve been harping for a couple of years on the idea of bringing back what was supposed to be a watchdog group overseeing what goes on in the Valley of the Little Missouri River during an oil boom.

It started with a letter from Jan Swenson, executive director of Badlands Conservation Alliance, to the North Dakota DOT’s Matt Linneman in 2015, regarding the construction of a new bridge over the Little Missouri Scenic River on U.S. Highway 85. Jan reminded us “The Little Missouri River was established as a N.D. State Scenic River in 1975 by the Little Missouri State Scenic River Act.

The act’s Intent reads: “The purpose of this chapter shall be to preserve the Little Missouri River as nearly as possible in its present state, which shall mean that the river will be maintained in a free-flowing natural condition, and to establish a Little Missouri River Commission. The stated duty of the Commission is to maintain the scenic, historic and recreational qualities of the Little Missouri River and its tributary streams.”

When I read that, I went looking in the North Dakota Century Code for Section 61-29, Little Missouri State Scenic River Act. I had a foggy memory of a company called Tenneco wanting to build a coal gasification plant in the Bad Lands and to dam up a tributary of the Little Missouri to provide water for the plant, and of the North Dakota Legislature responding by passing the Scenic River Act in 1975, sending Tenneco home with its tail between its legs. The state had effectively said “No thanks, Tenneco, put your plant somewhere else.” Can you imagine anyone in state government using those words today? Hah.

Well, long story short, I wrote a bunch of articles about it, Doug Burgum got elected governor, I lobbied him through his chief of staff, and he reinstated the commission, directing the six Bad Lands counties to appoint new members, and now they’ve had two meetings. And accomplished nothing.

Actually, as far as the last meeting goes, accomplishing nothing is a good thing. They could have done something bad.

A bit of background. For the first 42 years of its existence, Section 61-29, the State Scenic River Act, prohibited the State Water Commission from issuing Little Missouri water permits for industrial use (read: fracking oil wells). Little Missouri River water could only be used for agriculture and recreation. Made sense. But the 2017 Legislature changed that, to allow Little Missouri water to be used for fracking.

Turns out the Legislature was only legalizing something that had been going on for 30 years or so. See, the Water Commission staff had been ignoring the law (it claimed it didn’t know about it, a story I bought until just a few days ago — more about that on another day) and the commission had issued more than 600 industrial water use permits from the Little Missouri, all in violation of the State Scenic River Act.

What the Legislature did was make legal what had been going on for decades — at the request of the Water Commission engineers who had been breaking the law. Burgum signed the bill. But in either a show of uncertainty, or just a show, he slapped a moratorium on that industrial use. That was in May of this year, just after he signed the bill. But then only a month later, he steered the State Water Commission, which he chairs, into lifting the moratorium. But in doing that, he said this was just going to be an “interim policy” because he wanted the newly appointed Scenic River Commission to “weigh in” on that action, to let him know how it felt about industrial use of Little Missouri River water. You still with me here?

Meanwhile, while we’re waiting for that commission to “weigh in,” permits for use of Little Missouri River water for fracking are being issued.

So at this week’s Scenic River Commission meeting, Water Commission engineer Jon Patch, the man who issues water permits (including those 600 illegal ones) brought the interim policy to the commission and spent two hours pleading with commission members to ratify it. Commissioners were skeptical, which in my mind, was “weighing in.”

In fact, when a motion was made by one commission member to approve the policy, it died for lack of a second. Only one of the nine commission members wanted to approve it. When newly elected commission chairman Joe Schettler announced the motion had died for lack of a second, there was a stunned silence at the commission table and among the 50 or so audience members.

Patch had just spent two hours fending off comments from audience members in opposition to industrial use of Little Missouri River water for fracking and pleading with some skeptical commission members, going on and on about how it would keep trucks off the road, making the roads safer and eliminating dust, although with no mention of how the oil companies were going to get the water from the river to their oil wells.

Patch brought along a power point slide to that effect, (as you can see, visible and audible disruption of the Little Missouri River Valley is not really a problem!), and when Jan Swenson rose from the audience to make a well-reasoned plea to delay action on approving the policy, Patch rudely put the slide up on the screen behind her for the audience to see. Frankly, I was surprised that no one booed, but audience members apparently had better manners than Patch.

Well, nether the audience members nor the commissioners were stupid enough to buy Patch’s argument. Finally, in an ironic twist, commission members and State Engineer Garland Erbele, Patch’s boss, made a motion to postpone action on the policy, a motion that was quickly seconded and passed unanimously. Erbele’s motion staved off further embarrassment for his staff engineer, who had just wasted two hours of everyone’s time, and also staved off the possibility of a motion to reject the policy, which likely would have gotten a second, and maybe would have passed.

By this time, the meeting, which had been billed as a two-hour gathering, was more than three hours old, and it took another hour and a half to finish, thanks to some silliness on Erbele’s part (or more likely his staff).

See, when Erbele’s staff was putting together the agenda for the meeting, there was really only one item to discuss — approving Patch’s policy — so to fill up the two hours, whoever did the agenda, with Erbele’s approval, had scheduled a bunch of bureaucrats to brief the commission members on some pretty much irrelevant stuff.

First, an assistant attorney general spent about half an hour, with a fancy power point presentation, going painfully through all the nuances of the state’s open meetings law, including changes made by the 2017 Legislature, when all she really had to do was say, “Hey, you guys, all your meetings are open to the public, and all minutes of your meetings are available to anyone who wants to read them.”

Then another engineer, this one from the Department of Transportation, repeated everything he had said at the group’s August meeting about the proposed new bridge over the Little Missouri on Highway 85, beside the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

It’s important for the commission to “weigh in” on that one, too, but there was no new news at this meeting, just a rehash of the previous meeting. The commission might decide to weigh in after it sees the Environmental Impact Statement in a couple of months. This presentation, and its power point slides, could have waited until then.

And then a fisheries expert from the state Game and Fish Department got out his power point slides and talked for a long time about “endangered” fish in the Little Missouri. Duh. He could have just said, “There are no fish in the Little Missouri because it’s only 6 inches deep in most places in the summer and it freezes to the bottom in winter.” Yeah, that might endanger the fish.

It was a really bad miscalculation on the part of the Water Commission staff, and it is time for Parks Director Melissa Baker to wrest control of this board from the engineers, the way three Parks directors — Doug Eiken, Bob Horne and Gary Leppart — before her did. There were no meetings during the most recent Parks Director Mark Zimmerman’s term, and only one or two during his predecessor Doug Prchal’s term.

But give those ranchers on the commission credit — they stuck it out for 4½ hours, even though there were a hundred things they could do at home, and most of them just wanted to get into the bar for a quick Jack and Coke before heading back to the ranch.

The three Bismarck bureaucrats on the commission — Erbele, Baker and Dave Glatt from the Health Department — are probably used to long government meetings, but I bet two of them called Erbele the next day and said, “No more of that.” The meeting, which had begun at 4 p.m. Bismarck time, ended at 8:30 p.m., and they still had to drive home from Dickinson.

Here’s the bottom line: Gov., Burgum wants the Little Missouri River Commission, whose members are mostly Little Missouri River Valley ranchers, to tell him how they feel about the interim policy adopted by the State Water Commission, which allows temporary industrial water permits to be issued to draw water from the Little Missouri river for fracking. A reasonable approach by the governor. It might have been a good thing for the governor to come to the meeting, sit down with the commissioners and talk about it. That’s the way to find out how the Commission members feel.

Instead, he had his state engineer bring in one of his staff who, frankly, came off as a bit of a schoolyard bully, with a statement, all written up, and just asked them to approve it. It read:

“The Little Missouri River Commission has received and considered Temporary Water Permits Revised Interim Policy in the Little Missouri River Basin developed by the office of the State Engineer and presented to it at the August 19, 2017 meeting. The Little Missouri River Commission concurs with the policy and recommends that the State Water Commission adopt it as a permanent policy of the State Water Commission and the State Engineer.”

The Commission said no, we’re not approving that. At least not today.

Well, good for them. Meanwhile, the “interim” policy continues to allow issuance of fracking water permits from the Little Missouri. I don’t know if that’s what the governor wants. But it’s what he’s got, without the blessing of those who matter most — the ranchers in the Little Missouri River Valley. I’m not sure what will happen if the Scenic River Commission says “No” to the governor. Will he back off on issuing fracking permits?

There’ll be another meeting of the Little Missouri Scenic River Commission in a couple of months. Maybe commissioner will discuss the policy then. Or maybe next time the governor, if he really does want their input, will come and sit down with them ask them what they think. Wouldn’t that be something?

TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — McCain, An American Hero — Again

Apparently area senators have never heard of Dwight D. Eisenhower. He warned about an out-of-control military complex … and Sens. Heidi Heitkamp and John Hoeven of North Dakota and Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota just voted for that.

The budget the Senate approved is a $700 billion defense policy bill. It’s only $37 billion more than the president had requested. Other than national news stories you might have seen on Facebook, who knew this action had taken place?

What open discussion took place in the Senate? Who weighed the military requests versus the military need? What discussion took place about other national priorities like infrastructure needs, health care and the rest?

It’s true that the bill must be studied more and considered by the House before anything can be sent to the president to sign. But what happened to open debate-public input and prioritizing requests?

A true American hero, Sen. John McCain, promoted the bill. Given his place in history, his position is understandable. The same does not hold true for our own senators, who would have been wise to engage in public debate and set priorities before any vote was held.

I don’t want to be misunderstood. I, too, want to support the military this country requires and deserves. Right now, we’re the most powerful nation on the planet. Right now, we have enough nuclear weapons to destroy this earth. Right now, we have enough offensive and defensive weapons to annihilate any adversary (without the use of nuclear arms). Right now, we have the most powerful air force and naval forces the world has ever seen. Right now, we can cause unimaginable harm through the use of drones and rocket science.

Do we need to overhaul and provide more maintenance to our existing military equipment? You bet we do. Upgrades and regular maintenance, according to reports, are failing miserably. That, however, is a problem of our own making. Again, it’s the prioritizing of our spending that is the problem.

We don’t have sufficient funds to approve all budget requests. But when the budget is studied and common sense is used, we can in fact address most needs adequately.

Ike was right. Military spending — given our current situation — need not be the No. 1 concern of Congress.

How about improving, upgrading and expanding our railroads? How about constructing, improving and maintaining our roads and bridges? How about improving our freight and passenger air fleets? And how about funding a health care act that can be approved and promoted by health-care providers?

Sen. McCain once again showed his patriotism and concern for the people over party. His no vote sounded the death knell to the GOP Death Care Act. This will result in improvement to the Affordable Care Act rather than its elimination. Common sense, regardless of party affiliation, should dictate that the ACA be amended and improved. The idea that the ACA should be eliminated without any replacement plan is an idea floated by fools.

That those opposed to the ACA (in reality, to anything President Obama did) had eight years to bitch, whine and complain about it but still have not produced a replacement shows that the booing folks weren’t thinking of people who need health care. The stupid party line appears to be that  “those who aren’t rich and can’t pay their own way should suffer.”

Of course, while denying coverage to those in need, some of the party people also want large tax cuts for the rich. They’re flat-out lying about how that would affect the average wage earner.

By the time this article appears, I suppose a few others in 45’s administration will have been fired or quit. The tide is turning. Some of the voters who blindly followed and even worse, believed the bull doodoo from 45 are abandoning ship. With all of the dexterity of a bull in a china shop, 45 is losing his base — not his hard-core base, perhaps, but the ones with functional brains.

Now if our North Dakota and Minnesota senators will turn the switch in their brains back to “on” when it comes to the military, we can go back to our usual political party bashing.

* * *

Speaking of North Dakota! I have to wonder who Gov. Doug Burgum is representing. I lost all interest in him when he announced his support for 45, but it didn’t occur to me he would directly or indirectly, a la 45, use the office to obtain funding for his private companies.

Fargo has a commissioner, Tony Gehrig, who has been sounding the alarm on behalf of the citizens of Fargo. It’s falling on deaf commission ears. He has rightfully pointed out that the citizens are taking it in the shorts by the tax breaks given to Fargo area developers — tax breaks that benefit the developers but not the taxpaying citizens of Fargo.

Enough is enough. Developers want a tax break for the great project proposed for the First Bank site, which has now been postponed and extended for the second or third year. The whole idea of offering tax breaks was to induce construction now, but that has been changed to a tax break “whenever the developers want it.”

Not unlike our state and federal delegations, our local elected officials ought to remember they are supposed to represent the citizens of the area they serve. Those folks are not subservient to the corporate business interests.

Gehrig is an easy target for the politicians because he is a minority vote. In his case, though, the minority is a vote for the people. He’s usually right. Oh, that all elected officials would simply remember that they represent the people, not special interests!

* * *

Now, on to my life. For three years, the motor on my pontoon at the lake was hosed. This year, all of my lake equipment has worked … and it is me who broke down. Well, now that all of my physical equipment has been repaired and is in good running order, the whole damned summer is gone.

As we prepare to close our cottage down and winterize everything, I have but one plea. Let just one year go by where my body and my equipment in town and at the lake stay healthy. God told me I have now paid the price for all the sins committed in my 78 years of life, so now it’s down to motors and worldly things. Amen.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — The Little Missouri State Scenic River Commission Is Back In Business

When the Little Missouri Scenic River Commission meets Wednesday in Dickinson, N.D., it could have a cake with 10 candles on it to celebrate. It will have been just 20 days shy of 10 years since the Commission last met — Aug. 29, 2007.

The newly formed commission, put together hastily this summer to comply with strict orders from Gov. Doug Burgum, will meet at the Grand Dakota Lodge just off state Highway 22 in North Dickinson at 7 p.m. MDT. Its last meeting was held just across the highway in the Dickinson AmericInn 10 years ago. Likely the only person at Wednesday’s meeting who was also at the last meeting will be Jennifer Turnbow from the Bismarck Engineering firm KLJ.

At that meeting, Turnbow was the only person on the commission’s agenda. She was there to outline plans for a new crossing over the Little Missouri River in Billings County, N.D. More about that in a minute. She’s on Wednesday’s agenda for a much bigger project — a four-lane, multimillion dollar bridge over the Little Missouri State Scenic River to replace the Long-X Bridge on U.S. Highway 85 on the east edge of the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

The North Dakota Department of Transportation is turning Highway 85 into a four-lane highway from Williston to Bowman and is either going to have to widen or replace the existing bridge. It’s a contentious issue because the highway actually runs through the east end of the national park, and there’s great concern about the impact of four lanes of 70 mph traffic zipping through the park.

A decision is going to have to be made pretty soon about how to get those cars and trucks across the Little Missouri State Scenic River with the least possible impact on the park. That’s what Turnbow will discuss Wednesday. We’ll have to wait and see if she has a formal recommendation.

Kudos to Gov. Burgum, and whoever put together the agenda, for putting the bridge project up for discussion at this historic first meeting of the commission in 10 years. Actually, credit really goes to Jan Swenson, executive director of the Badlands Conservation Alliance. Last year, in submitting comments on the draft of the Environmental Impact Statement on the Highway 85 project, Jan suggested that the North Dakota DOT consult the Little Missouri Scenic River Commission.

Well, Jan’s comments set us all to scrambling to find out what the hell that commission was all about. So we all refreshed our memories (here’s an article I wrote about it last year) and reminded ourselves that it was created by the 1975 Legislature to “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.”

That’s quoted from the Little Missouri State Scenic River Act of 1975, now Chapter 61-29 of the North Dakota Century Code. A little-remembered but significant state law. So, some of us began lobbying newly elected Gov. Burgum last winter to revive the commission, and sure enough, he did, and now we’re going to a meeting.

Thank you Jan, and thank you Gov. Burgum. This is important because Chapter 61-29 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.”

And if there was ever a time when activities in the Little Missouri State Scenic River Valley need some oversight, it’s now. Because in the absence of the commission during the Hoeven and Dalrymple years, there’s been a lot of bad shit going on in the Little Missouri River Valley.

And so last week, Jessie Wald, public information officer for the State Water Commission, sent out a press release announcing:

“Gov. Burgum has requested that the Little Missouri River Commission reconvene to discuss water management and development issues in the Little Missouri River Basin. The meeting is scheduled to be held on Wednesday, Aug. 9. It will take place at the Ramada Grand Dakota Lodge in the Freedom Hall at 532 15th Street West in Dickinson, N.D., from 7 to 9 p.m. MDT.”

Jessie went on to say:

“The Little Missouri River State Scenic River Act (Act) was created and passed in 1975 by the North Dakota Legislature. That same legislation also established the Little Missouri River Commission to administer the Act — though as an advisory commission only (emphasis added).

“LMRC membership, by statute, includes the Director of the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department, the State Health Officer, the Chief Engineer of the State Water Commission, or their designated representatives; and one member each from McKenzie, Billings, Slope, Golden Valley, Dunn, and Bowman counties.

“The Aug. 9 meeting will provide background of the LRMC, include an election of officers, and there will be various presentations and discussions pertaining to current natural resource management issues along the Little Missouri River. The last LRMC meeting convened in 2007.”

I underlined the language above because it kind of pissed me off that Jessie’s superiors found it necessary to say that it only has “advisory” responsibilities. These are the same fellows over at the State Water Commission, also known as the State Engineer’s Office, who flouted this same state law for years by issuing more than 600 illegal industrial water permits to let the oil industry use Little Missouri River water to frack their oil wells, despite the law’s language that said (at the time — it’s been updated by the 2017 Legislature to allow industrial uses of Little Missouri River water)  “Channelization, reservoir construction, or diversion other than for agricultural or recreational, purposes … are expressly prohibited. I wrote about that back in April.

And so, when this body of six ranchers, one from each of the Bad Lands counties, and three state officials, get together Wednesday night, the first item Jessie’s bosses put on the agenda is a review of an old attorney general’s opinion issued by Nick Spaeth back in the 1980s.

In that opinion, Spaeth said he felt the law limited the commission to “adopting advisory policies for consideration by regulating bodies.”  Spaeth said, “It is my opinion that the Little Missouri Scenic River Commission may not regulate activities affecting the Little Missouri River.”

So, we and commission members, are being told, at the commission’s first meeting in 10 years, that they really don’t have any authority over what goes on in the Little Missouri State Scenic River Valley.

Except that Spaeth went on to say that “Regulating bodies are to recognize that the commission has an important role to play in managing the river. The commission, because of its composition, is able to provide a unique local perspective to management issues. Therefore, regulating bodies should carefully consider the Commission’s recommendations.” (emphasis added)

And that’s why Jennifer Turnbow, representing KLJ, which is engineering the Highway 85 project, will be at Wednesday’s meeting. When she completes her EIS, she wants to be sure she acknowledges the feelings of the Little Missouri River Commission.

And it is likely she will be back in front of the commission again pretty soon because as I mentioned at the beginning of this article, she’s also drafting the EIS for the Billings County bridge project. And she wrote in a newsletter for the project back in April 2008 (who’d have ever guessed a project could drag on this long?),  “Coordination with the (Little Missouri State Scenic River) Commission will be ongoing throughout the environmental process. Once alternatives have been defined and are carried forward for impact analysis, they will be presented to the commission again. At that time, the commission will determine if the proposed project is in compliance with the Little Missouri State Scenic River Act.” Here’s some more background.

Well, we’re about at that stage now. We expect to see that EIS in the next few months. And sure enough, after all these years, the commission is back in business. So, true to her word, as she always is, Turnbow will come back sometime this fall or winter, after she releases the EIS on the Billings County bridge project, and seek the commission’s blessing for that bridge. I’ll write more about that on another day.

For now, I’m going to brush up on the Highway 85 project by reading this old blog post, and put some gas in the car for the trip to Dickinson, to be part of this historic first meeting of the “new” Little Missouri State Scenic River Commission.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — The Little Missouri State Scenic River Is In Trouble Again

North Dakota’s Little Missouri State Scenic River lost most of its scenic protection this week when Gov. Doug Burgum reversed course and joined the members of his State Water Commission in opening the entire river to industrial water development.

Last month, Burgum declared upstream areas of the state’s only official State Scenic River — the areas surrounding the three units of Theodore Roosevelt National Park — off-limits to industrial water use and told State Engineer Garland Erbele to “immediately review, modify and make transparent the process and requirements for any future issuance of temporary use permits for nonagricultural uses.” Read: Permits for fracking water.

That came after it was revealed that the Water Commission staff had issued more than 600 illegal industrial water permits and then had state law changed in the waning days of the 2017 Legislature to make such permits legal. The Little Missouri State Scenic River Act, passed by the 1975 Legislature, prohibited the use of Little Missouri water for industrial purposes. The bill passed this year changed that.

Friends of the river urged Burgum to veto the legislation, but he declined, instead issuing his policy of only allowing those permits downstream of the National Park.

In issuing that policy, Burgum said in a letter to me and others:

“As governor, a North Dakota resident and a property owner on the Little Missouri River, protecting our environment and being responsible stewards of our natural resources is a priority for me personally and for our administration.”

Well, so much for “being responsible stewards.” Thursday’s action by the Water Commission took care of that.

Erbele did his “review” and came up with a recommendation 180 degrees from Burgum’s policy, opening up the entire Little Missouri State Scenic River basin to industrial use.

And in a puzzling move, the governor then took that recommendation to the Water Commission this week, instead of acting on it himself, as he had done in declaring his earlier policy.

Even more puzzling, the governor did not question the policy recommendation, and voted to implement it, opening up the entire river to industrial development and leaving friends of the river shaking their heads in wonder — and anger — at his inconsistency.

Now, I suspect that the governor, if questioned, would say he wanted broader input on the policy — input from his State Water Commission members. But the Water Commission only heard one side of the story — the oil industry’s side — at Thursday’s meeting. Opponents of the policy, who wanted to keep industrial development away from our State Scenic River and from the National Park, were not given a chance to speak to the issue.

Several of those opponents sat through Thursday’s marathon session for five hours, waiting for a discussion of the Little Missouri State Scenic River Act, as promised on the Commission’s agenda. But they were caught off guard when a Water Commission staff member presented a recommendation from a list of four options — the three that were not adopted offered some protection for the river — and the Commission adopted the one opening up the river for development after a brief discussion. Only Agriculture Commissioner Douglas Goehring voted against the recommendation, citing concerns over industrial use trumping the needs of farmers and ranchers for irrigation.

I was among those who thought it unusual for a major new state policy to be adopted by an important state agency without any public discussion or any chance for making a case against the policy before a vote was taken. But then, if we can adopt a national health care policy written behind closed doors, I suppose nothing surprises any more.

There was some discussion among Commission members before the vote. Commissioner Harley Swenson of Bismarck questioned the urgency of adopting the policy, given low water levels in the Little Missouri this year and pointing out that there were another 1,000 wells awaiting fracking right now, and perhaps wells along the river could wait until there is more water available and the list of wells awaiting fracking shrinks.

But Commissioner Larry Hanson, also of Bismarck, jumped in on behalf of the oil industry, saying that if they don’t get the water out of the Little Missouri, it’s a “long haul” to have it brought in from somewhere else. Old, white –haired, mostly bald heads around the table nodded in assent, and a vote was taken quickly then to approve the policy.

I point out the white-haired, mostly bald heads because the Water Commission is — or should be — an embarrassment to North Dakota government. All seven appointees to the board are old white males, many well into their 70s, at least one 80. To be fair, all were appointed by governors other than Burgum, and Burgum let four of them go after Thursday’s meeting, opening up their spots to new members he will appoint later this summer. Maybe some women? Maybe some under 70?

In another disappointing moment in the meeting, Burgum made a lame argument about the sequence of events leading up to the change in the law and Thursday’s adoption of a new policy. The illegal permits issued for industrial use had been going on “for decades,” Burgum said, and when a staff member discovered it, they quickly stopped doing it.

“There was no cover-up,” Burgum said. They admitted what they did was wrong, he went on, and brought it to the attention of the Legislature, which fixed the law to make those permits legal now.

Yeah, well, the governor was blowing smoke. Here’s what really happened. More than a year ago, I wrote an article for my blog and for Dakota Country magazine about the Little Missouri Scenic River Commission. During this year’s Legislative Session, a friend of mine, who had read the blog, told me he had heard a mention of the Scenic River Commission on the floor of the Legislature. I went looking, and sure enough, there was an amendment to the State Water Commission budget bill changing the law to allow industrial use of water from the Little Missouri State Scenic River, which had been prohibited since 1975.

I called the Water Commission, got a couple of the staff responsible for issuing water permits on the phone and asked what they were up to. They told me that they never knew about the law, in spite of working there for decades, and that one of their staff had read my story and brought the law to their attention, so they were getting it changed. I asked if they had issued any industrial permits to take water for the oil industry from the river, and one of them blurted out, “Yeah, more than 600.”  I’m guessing those two wished they had been a little more circumspect — I doubt they had told the Legislature that, when they asked to change the law — but it was too late. The cat was out of the bag.

So I wrote a story about it, and, when the bill passed the Legislature, a whole lot of people put heat on the governor to veto it. He didn’t, but he wrote the policy I mentioned earlier about keeping the industrial permits away from the section of the river near the National Park, the policy which was overturned Thursday with the governor’s blessing.

So what’s next?

Right now, the Water Commission staff said Thursday, there are four industrial water permit applications pending, asking for water for oil well fracking from the Little Missouri. I looked them up on the Water Commission’s website. All are between the North and South Units of the National Park, one just a couple of miles from the Elkhorn Ranch. One has asked to start pumping water immediately, one Sept. 1, and two Nov. 1. The permits, once approved, are good for only 12 months, so I’d guess they will be pretty eager to get going.

The oil companies have negotiated what I suspect is a pretty sizeable fee with the ranchers for access to the river on their land and building some kind of water depot into which they’ll pump the water. And then the water trucks — as many as a thousand trucks for each well — will thunder down the hill to the depot and load up and take their water to the well that needs fracking. At least I think that is how it works. I asked the Water Commission today what their intentions are for those four permit applications. Here’s the response:

“They all are in pending status. Based on the decision of the State Water Commission yesterday, they are eligible to be reviewed for approval. If approved conditions will be applied similar to the temporary industrial permits that have been issued downstream of the Long-X bridge. A threshold and maximum pumping rate will be developed for this reach of the river based on the Medora gage.” 

Well, I don’t suppose they’ll be pumping much water from the river right now if they are approved — which they could be. Right now, about noon on June 23, 2017, the river gauge at Medora shows there are just over 3 cubic feet per second (cfs) flowing through Medora. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, which maintains the gauges and keeps the records, that’s the lowest flow for this date in the 60 year history of keeping records on the river. The previous low was just under 8 feet in 2004, and the mean flow is 1150 cfs. In other words, the river is just about dead in its tracks. A severe drought, like the one we’re in right now, will do that. But if it rains …

I’m going to send this article to the governor to let him know how unhappy I am with him. He’s the only one who can protect the Little Missouri State Scenic River valley right now. It wouldn’t hurt if he heard from a few more people, too. It’s pretty easy. Just click here. 

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Act Today To Protect The Little Missouri State Scenic River

There are two or three days left in the legislative session. A lot of bad things are going to happen to North Dakota in that short period of time. I’ve been watching every legislative session since 1975, and this one is by far the most irresponsible I’ve seen.

One of the worst things that could happen this week is the industrialization of the Little Missouri State Scenic River. I wrote about this last week. I won’t go back into it here. Instead, I’m asking you to help stop something bad from happening.

Below is an email I sent to Gov. Doug  Burgum this morning. In it, I am asking him to instruct his state engineer to withdraw the amendment to the Little Missouri Scenic River Act that he has requested in House bill 1020. You can read it here. It is on page 8, about halfway down the page. The words “temporary use,” which they are adding to the Act, are code words for Industrial Water Permits. The Water Commission’s own engineers told me that last week.

Please consider emailing Gov. Burgum by going to this link on his web page and ask him to have his state engineer withdraw his request for changes to the Little Missouri State Scenic River Act in HB1020. Please do it today. Tomorrow is probably too late. Thank you for your help.

Here’s the email I sent this morning.

Dear Gov. Burgum,

In 1975, the Legislature acted to protect the Little Missouri State Scenic River (its full and appropriate title) from industrial development by passing the Little Missouri State Scenic River Act, now Section 61-29 of the North Dakota Century Code.  Many of my friends and I were involved in that effort to protect the Little Missouri River, as the state faced a request from Tenneco to build a coal gasification plant in western North Dakota, using water from a dam on a tributary of the Little Missouri. The act specifically said “No water for industrial use from the Little Missouri or its tributaries.” That law has withstood the test of time, except that the State Water Commission has been violating it for years by giving out illegal industrial use water permits from the Little Missouri, by their own accounting more than 600 of them, to the oil and gas industry. Now the Water Commission has asked that an amendment to 61-29 be approved to allow them to legally give out industrial water permits. They have done so in an amendment to House Bill 1020, a Water Commission appropriations bill. I am writing to ask you to instruct the State Engineer to ask the Legislature to remove that amendment from HB 1020 today. You and I both know that the Little Missouri is too valuable to be used as an industrial water source. That’s why it has been named the state’s only State Scenic River, and is the only river protected from development by state law. Please act today to preserve that law, and our precious Little Missouri State Scenic River.

TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — No One Wants Parking Meters But Out-Of-Touch Politicians

Moorhead, prepare for a possible influx of new business. It seems that North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and his gang are pushing for a law authorizing the use of parking meters — for downtown Fargo.

Never mind that he has substantial holdings in Central City, and never mind that the cost of each unit, including installation, could be in the area of $1,000. (My info comes from the Web, which referred to both cash-operated and the more modern credit-card-operated units.) They would basically benefit no one other than those who live downtown and want traffic to move.

Never mind that merchants have always known that meters don’t bring in shoppers! Customers don’t want the hassle if they have alternatives like Moorhead and the area shopping centers. But Burgum doesn’t own properties in those other parts of our towns — no need to worry about meters elsewhere!

Proponents claim parking meters will eliminate the need for the parking officers who now patrol the area. But they have yet to answer one interesting question: If those meters expire and no one checks them, how are violators going to be punished?

* * *

It’s also too bad Burgum didn’t take former Gov. Ed Shafer’s advice and veto the law that allows anyone to open-carry guns without a permit or training.

The Moorhead Police Department will have a field day with the warriors from North Dakota when the latter drive into Minnesota and strut their gun stuff … only to find that said exposure and carry is not legal in Minnesota.

Legalizing open carry without training is a bad idea. It does seem to go hand in hand with North Dakota’s ranking as tops in driving under the influence and other alcohol-related offenses. Here’s just one example of the stupidity that could arise: A person is stopped for possible DUI. He has a prior record and panics; or he panics, even without a prior record. What do you think law enforcement officers will be thinking as they approach that vehicle in an open-carry state?

Will arguments formerly resolved by fists now be resolved with guns? Throw in alcohol and drugs, and this law simply adds fuel to the fire. Gov. Gun Supporter doesn’t have to enforce the law. But he just greatly increased the risks for those who do.

The National Rifle Association has a stellar record of buying politicians who then support their legislation, whether or not it’s good for those who voted them in. That’s a fact of life, one that we ought to concentrate on a lot more than we do.

Our state-level clone of POTUS 45, a.k.a. the governor of North Dakota, also sent a letter urging the repeal of the Affordable Healthcare Act on the very day the Speaker of the House of Representatives withdrew the Republican attempt to repeal and replace. Burgum, along with other Republican governors, did that with the complete knowledge there was no “repair” or “replacement.” He was prepared to throw the elderly, the infirm, the students and everyone else off their current plans.

Unlike Gov. B, the general population of North Dakota is not in the superwealthy class. The average person — me, for instance — would take it in the shorts. I live with diabetes from damage to the pancreas, meaning I now have a pre-existing condition. He would have thrown me and many others to the wolves.

Nursing homes, hospitals and rural clinics would all have been adversely affected. People who do not have knowledge about how the average citizen manages to survive should not be making decisions that will hasten their demise.

* * *

It seems Fargo City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn has stepped in it again with his divisive comments and actions relating to the cost of immigrants in our community. He’s dead wrong; he is in lockstep with the likes of 45 and Burgum.

But his actions, as offensive as they are, do not — in my opinion — justify recalling him.

Those who are unhappy with any politician ought to redirect their energy into finding suitable candidates to run for office and replace those they don’t support. With a recall, you have no idea who the successor will be. But you can bet that all kinds of self-interested individuals will come out of the woodwork to fill the void.

One thing 45 has done is to wake the sleeping giant known as the American Voter. From all appearances, the weirdly incompetent anomaly known as Donald J. Trump won’t happen again in this century. Voters will be alive and well to take on the the next batch of local, state and federal elections because we have been reminded what is at stake by silence and inaction.

* * *

By the way, did anyone remember to tell ISIS they should stop fighting and go home? I mean, 45 did announce he would cause the destruction of ISIS within the first 30 days of his administration. But by golly, he said the same thing about the Affordable Care Act … yet Trumpcare failed, just like all of 45’s private enterprises — Trump casinos, Trump steaks, Trump University and so many more.

I think a good many people really did think that Obamacare and the ACA were two separate things. They didn’t like Obamacare because of the man whose name it was stuck with, but did like the ACA, which benefited them. Of course, the two are one and the same.

When people make promises, we have to look behind them and consider whether they have the means to do what they say. Take the ACA, for example. After eight years and 60-some votes to repeal it, the Republicans now in the majority had neither a repair or replacement plan. Eight years of political BS! And still the politicians drew their pay. In the private sector, the clowns of “The Party of No” would have been fired. Maybe that will happen now.

I have one growing fear about 45. Each day, either through his tweets or his minions, he does something to divert the news from the serious topics of the day. The media are on to him now, and they’re starting to tune out some of his antics That’s why I’m getting more and more worried that the Orange One will ultimately start a military action to divert attention from the more and more damning investigations. I hope I’m wrong.

And one last travesty. Congress has voted to repeal protections for wolves and bears on Alaska wildlife refuges. They have legalized killing wolves, bears and their babies in their dens. What a piece of cold blooded stupidity! Sen. Heidi Heitkamp opposed the measure. POTUS 45’s faithful servant, Sen. John Hoeven, supported eliminating the protection. Shame on you, John Hoeven. Amen.

TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — An Innocent Man Would Want To Clear the Air

I’m wondering if there is something in the air, or if it’s only me.

A demand is made for an investigation into communications between the Russians and members of the Trump administration. In the world I live in, I wouldn’t object at all if there was nothing to the matter. I’d tell the complainers, “Have at it!” I would know that they’d find nothing.

That is not, however, what is happening. The chairs of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, both Republicans, of course, privately contacted members of the news media at the administration’s request. They were asked to do what they can to kill the story … because “the claims aren’t true.”

I ask you, now: If someone claims you’ve done something wrong — and you know you are innocent — wouldn’t you let that investigation continue?

I would! I’d want to prove the accusation was false, and thereby expose those false accusers for what they are.

Or would you do everything you could to kill the investigation … thereby drawing attention to it?

The Senate and House intelligence committee chairs have admitted that they, in fact, did try to convince the media to kill the story. Can their committees reasonably be expected now to conduct fair and impartial hearings on the charges they’ve tried to defend the president against?

Some of that polluted water the Republicans — with the help of Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D. — have recently allowed to pour into our waterways must have reached Washington by now. It must have affected their brains if they think the American public is so stupid as to not want — in fact, demand — a special counsel and independent committee to investigate the Russian connection as well as other hints of scandals that are putting our country at risk.

The ghost of Sen. Joe McCarthy must be haunting the halls of Congress. It seems that anyone who doesn’t agree with the administration’s take on events is accused of being either un-American or involved in some nefarious plot to take down our illustrious president.

The national media aren’t perfect. No one is. But they are fulfilling their job to investigate and report the news just as it is … not to make it themselves. It’s hard for me, as an avid news junkie, to stomach the administration’s wild-eyed claims that anything he doesn’t like is “fake news.” But I’m even more shocked, surprised and saddened to see that so many individuals buy into those lies.

I cannot imagine this country at the national, state or local levels without an active, investigating press. Today, it can access so many records using so many techniques that prominent individuals may actually be more prone to tell the truth for fear how easily they can be exposed. If the truth is revealed, they’re anxious to bury it.

Nixon had his problems. By many measures, he was a good president and represented this country well. His well-deserved international image was ultimately destroyed, though, by his personality and his own actions trying to bury the truth of Watergate.

President Trump? Well, you can draw your own conclusions.

Remember the recent military raid that resulted in the death of one young Navy SEAL and a dozen civilians (including children), as well as the loss of an aircraft? While the president should have been in the Ready Room watching the operation he had ordered in real time, instead he opted to stay at dinner with his family and compose tweets.

Military experts have said the mission was not sufficiently planned (not that our disengaged president would have known). The parents of the fallen hero shared this conclusion. They refused to meet with POTUS and his daughter at the airport when their son’s body was returned.

The SEAL’s father is demanding an inquiry into what went wrong. Early word from Washington was that the president would not object. Do not bet the farm, though, on his support of investigating that or any other subject.

● ● ●

Back home in North Dakota, the Public Employee Retirement System, run by an appointed board, has done an outstanding job of representing those it serves and the state. God’s gift to himself, Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, now wants that job to be dropped into the governor’s already-full lap. In Carlson’s world, the board’s not being elected somehow disqualifies them from being good managers.

To Rep. Carlson, I say: Let well enough alone. They do a good job and don’t need your meddling attempt to burden the new governor with more of your personal prejudices.

Speaking of Gov. Burgum, I commend him for his forthright and decisive conclusion of the DAPL situation. Governor, you did what your predecessor did not do. You recognized the Native Americans. You and your representatives went to Native land to discuss issues with Native representatives. You recognized the sovereignty of the tribes. You recognized the work and dedication of law enforcement. You recognized the tribal concerns. You recognized that agitators behind unlawful acts were not reservation residents, and you did everything in your power to assist in the orderly restoration of order, once the courts had ruled.

Had your predecessor acted as you did much, much sooner in the course of events, many of the ugly incidents that occurred could have been avoided. I applaud you for the actions you took.

I see much hope in this governor’s future, and I wish him well.

● ● ●

Speaking of “well,” in the long, long ago, I used to watch roller derby on the tube. It was like a combination of football, track, hockey and wrestling rolled into one.

My wife came home last week from an event at the Plains Art Museum in Fargo, where the Fargo-Moorhead Derby Girls were handing out cards for recruiting. They’re looking for skaters, referees, coaches, support staff, volunteers, announcers and many more.

It strikes my fancy! The debut of men’s and women’s roller derby takes place at 6 p.m. March 25 at the Fargo Civic Center. If you’re interested in joining, email them at fmdginquiry@live.com. You can find more information at www.fmderbygirls.com.

I am not affiliated with this group in any way, and they won’t know of my interest until they read it here.

Finally, I was excited to read about the study to restore downtown Moorhead to its former glory. I spent many date nights at the Moorhead Theater, followed by the FM Hotel’s Top of the Mart. Great memories from my high school days! Amen.

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — Mr. Bender Goes to Bismarck

It’s almost halftime at the North Dakota Legislature, so last week I went to the state Capitol to monitor progress.

I represented The Ashley Tribune and The Wishek Star as Newspapers of the Day, a program sponsored by the North Dakota Newspaper Association to foster better relations between the press and legislators. I guess I was an ambassador of good will. Because you know how lawmakers love to talk to someone who is always abusing free speech.

The Legislature is doing its very best to get a handle on all this transparency nonsense. For instance, there’s a bill supported by former Gov. Ed Schafer that would conceal the identity of applicants for government jobs until finalists are selected. Schafer said “no one” reads newspapers anymore because they are always presenting this kind of scandalous news. Knowledge upsets people. And here you are reading the newspaper. Loser.

You could conclude that since 85 percent of state voters in the last election wanted to have their local minutes published, taxpayers are interested in seeing how their government operates. I guess those are alternative facts. We should check with Landslide Donald.

I stopped by the governor’s office, but Doug Burgum wasn’t in. They were still trying to raise bail money after Gov. Burgum was dragged off the Senate floor for wearing blue jeans. The sergeant-at-arms is originally from Wishek, but he has been in Bismarck for 50 years. When you go that long without Wishek Sausage, it makes you a little cranky.

I also stopped in to see House Majority Leader Al Carlson, a frequent guest star of these columns. But he was out, too. I did get a peek at his throne — red velvet and gold encrusted with jewels. North Dakota Petroleum Council President Ron Ness was sitting in it, reading the Oil Illustrated swimsuit edition. You can’t unsee Harold Hamm in a thong. If they ever put him in the Rough Rider Hall of Fame, though, that’s the picture they should use.

There have been some remarkable achievements in the Legislature. I would be remiss if I didn’t give credit where credit is due — to the Republicans, who have a superduper majority. There are so many Republicans in Bismarck, they almost outnumber oil lobbyists.

Meanwhile, there are old-fashioned phone booths adjacent to the Senate Chambers, which is where the Democrats caucus. These meetings are open to the public. You can even wear jeans. And Birkenstocks.

Republican caucuses are held in a top-secret location off the Capitol grounds and are closed to the public. You need a password, a secret handshake and a hotdish for the potluck. Once a month, they sacrifice a virgin. Ironically, it’s always a Republican because they are the only women of virtue.

I got to hear the virtuous Sen. Janne Myrdal speak. She was wearing a chastity belt and a halo. You’ll remember Myrdal for her heroic struggle against Gay Nazis on Facebook. If you don’t fight them on Facebook, pretty soon you’ll have to fight them on Snapchat.

I also watched the Senate vote to support a bill banning masks. But what are oil executives going to wear when they are robbing North Dakotans? While Texas and Oklahoma billionaires got a 23 percent tax break last session, citizens here are facing austerity measures.

Eight rural highway maintenance shops are slated to be closed, meaning snowplows will have to travel 120 miles to clear roads in some instances. Which is reasonable, I guess, if you don’t live there. They also plan to close nine drivers license sites. You may have to drive 200 miles to get your license, but it’s not like those are “tax dollars” you pay at the pump. It should work out fine if the roads are clear.

The party that wants smaller government also voted in the Senate to grow government with the creation of  the Orwellian-sounding “Department of Environmental Quality,” which will allow a political appointee to more easily nonregulate the oil industry. A 153-page bill was approved, unread, in a 90-minute committee meeting, with no estimate of the cost of this new department. I guess they had to pass it to know what’s in it.

Republicans are defending us (and the fossil fuel industry) against wind energy. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is endorsing a two-year moratorium on wind energy development. The theory being that the free market works best without competition. Another bill would shift wind tax revenue from the counties to the state. So, the governor can afford some decent pants.

Thank goodness they’re standing up for the environment. Have you ever seen a wind spill? It’s ugly. They should ban solar energy, too. Because the sun is a leading cause of global warming.

Finally, thanks to GOP opposition to the overreach of the U.S. Supreme Court, it’s still legal to discriminate against “the gays” in North Dakota. However, you can’t just run them down in the street. Even if they are wearing a swastika. Because they could be a Trump supporter.

Compromise and moderation prevails, once again.

© Tony Bender, 2017