JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — A Thousand Trucks A Day Moves One Step Closer To Reality Today

Sometime today, Thursday, June 13, 2019, I expect to receive some of the worst news I’ve had in many years.

I expect to receive an e-mail from a friendly fellow at the North Dakota Department of Transportation who’s just doing his job, who means no ill will, who doesn’t want to be the bearer of what I will receive as bad tidings, who’s just responding to a request from me for some information.

Here’s what he’s going to tell me: The Federal Highway Administration, the North Dakota Department of Transportation and the County Commissioners in Billings County, North Dakota, have signed a Record of Decision to proceed with construction of a new bridge across the Little Missouri River north of Medora.

The Record of Decision comes after more than 13 years of contemplation by those three parties, and the completion of an Environmental Impact Statement process that took more than six years and cost Billings County taxpayers several million dollars.

I’ve written about this project here many times, and I expect to write about it many more times because while the federal, state and local governments have decided to build their bridge, it’s not quite a done deal yet.

Oh, it may be. My guess is that a judge somewhere will have the final say. The county’s going to have to obtain right-of-way from a pretty stubborn Bad Lands family to tear up a historic ranch to accommodate the bridge. I don’t think the Short family, descendants of former North Dakota Congressman and longtime Bad Lands rancher Don Short, is going to make this easy. I hope not.

Shortly, an engineer from KLJ Engineering, the company that has made millions shepherding this project since 2006 and actually writing the Environmental Impact Statement, is going to knock on the Short family’s door, with Billings County’s checkbook in hand, and ask how much the family wants for about 60 acres of prime Little Missouri bottomland—described to me once by a neighboring rancher as “one of the best bottoms on the whole Little Missouri River.”

My guess, based on the family’s statements at past public meetings on the project, is that the KLJ engineer is going to be told to go perform an impossible sex act, although in nice terms, and with a pretty vigorous shake of the head.

Then the county will have to resort to a condemnation process, and that’s when the judges get involved. That could take a few more years. There’s no predicting the outcome.

A year ago, I wrote a pretty complete history of this project, so I’m not going to repeat myself here. You can just click on this link to my 2018 blog to read it.

A month ago, I wrote of a new wrinkle in this story, the development of a major new oilfield in the same area as the bridge. You can read that by clicking on this link.

The prediction of a thousand trucks a day racing down gravel roads through the valley of the Little Missouri State Scenic River is going to come one step closer to reality today when that nice fellow at the North Dakota DOT hits “send” on his e-mail to me.


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