Posted 10/27/10 (Wed)
By Neal A. Shipman
McKenzie County voters will be asked to choose between three candidates to fill two seats on the McKenzie Board of County Commissioners during the 2010 General Election on Tuesday, Nov. 2.
Incumbents Roger Chinn of Grassy Butte and Richard (Rick) Lawlar are being challenged by Cameron Arnegard of Arnegard.
This week as part of the McKenzie County Farmer’s coverage of the local races that area voters will be deciding next Tuesday, we asked each of the candidates running for the County Commission to respond to a series of questions dealing with issues that are important to the residents of McKenzie County.
The questions posed to each candidate and their responses follows.
With all the energy development in McKenzie County, county roads are deteriorating rapidly. What should the County Commission be doing to properly maintain roads in the county?
Arnegard: Roads in McKenzie County should be the County Commission’s top priority. North Dakota allocated $1.35 billion for the period 2009-2011, a small fraction of which went to the western part of the state – the part of the state that produces the bulk of the revenue the state has. The improvements that are underway now are from the small amount the state has deemed necessary for the western area of North Dakota. It amounts to intersection improvements and a few passing lanes. While this is indeed a welcome improvement, it is a pitiful amount against a massive requirement. It does nothing for secondary roads. Our roads are carrying the only real commerce in the state. What are needed are major road repairs including secondary roads. What is being done now is like a band-aid applied to major hemorrhaging. The secondary roads are deplorable and need to be fixed. Compacted sub-base courses, base courses and surfacing including widening are necessary for a lasting road that will take farm traffic and oil traffic. In other words, build roads that will last a while. Given the politics of the state of North Dakota, it is unlikely we will ever get the amount really needed from the state. The county will have to fund a lot of the bill. Fixing the roads should be job one.
Chinn: Traffic on McKenzie County roads has increased dramatically and our road department has done as much as possible to maintain our road system. McKenzie County initiated a dust control program utilizing mag-chloride in 2008 covering 11 miles. This pilot program was successful as a dust suppressant and also to preserve surfacing. In 2009 this was increased to 65 miles. While the program is ongoing in 2010, I believe we will reach 85-90 miles this year. We have found the product not only controls dust but also does an excellent job preserving gravel surfacing on heavily traveled roads.
As County Commissioners we have added additional road department equipment and personnel and will continue to upgrade county equipment to allow county employees to use their time as efficiently as possible. This year we have also contracted to have surfacing applied to maintain McKenzie County roads in the best condition possible. We have also implemented an 80,000-pound load limit with reduced travel speed for trucks on selected county blacktops. I expect this to be expanded to protect McKenzie County’s investment in blacktop roads. In addition the McKenzie County road construction crew continues to upgrade county and township roads each construction season.
Another area we have addressed is safety on our roads. For 2011 we have budgeted for two additional deputies. This should allow for increased rural patrolling and also one deputy to do truck regulatory including scales to protect county blacktop roads.
If re-elected I will continue to put resources to work to maintain the McKenzie County road system and provide for public safety.
Lawlar: I understand the frustration that people are having with the conditions of the roads, myself included. With the amount of heavy truck traffic, it is extremely hard to keep the roads maintained like we have been accustomed to. However, the commissioners have been and will continue to see that the road department has updated equipment and the manpower to operate it. I also would like to share that Mark Koeser and his road crews are doing an outstanding job under the conditions they are working in.
We are experimenting with mag-chloride on the roads and that seems to be holding the surface on the road and working well with the heavy truck traffic. There is also a crew that now works specifically with the mag-chloride. We are in the process of hiring two more sheriff’s deputies to help with the traffic control. We also have purchased and trained one of the sheriff’s deputies to operate weigh scales.
It is important to remember that one loaded semi equals about 105,000 pounds. That is equivalent to 60 cars. We are looking at different options to continue to improve the quality of the roads.
With the rapid development of industrial development and housing subdivisions across the county, do you believe that the county commissioners need to develop and implement zoning ordinances?
Chinn: North Dakota Century Code #11-33-01 allows County Commissioners to implement a planning and zoning process. My personal belief is that this is an infringement on private property rights. The position of the County Commissioner is to listen to the citizens and respond to requests. If a super majority of McKenzie County residents through public meetings requested the County Commission to implement this process, I would participate.
Lawlar: Zoning tends to be a very sensitive subject. Before I would implement any zoning ordinances, I would set up town hall meetings and seek the will of the people, to see what the majority wants. I would like to get different views and opinions from the residents of McKenzie County.
Arnegard: Yes. Unfortunately there is no alternative to the County developing its’ own zoning and implementing zoning ordinances. This, however, should not be done without the communities developing such ordinances with assistance from the County. No zone or ordinance should be developed unilaterally and forced on the community without county-wide approval. This is especially true when it comes to roads, energy and transportation zones. Consideration should be given to agricultural and industrial needs as well as housing area needs. The county should not rely on state ordinances but must develop McKenzie County rules commensurate with state laws.
Cities in McKenzie County are struggling to meet the infrastructure needs associated with more people moving into these communities. What role should the county have in helping these communities meet housing and infrastructure needs?
Lawlar: I feel we have stepped up to the plate in helping the different communities in McKenzie County with their infrastructure needs that they have brought to us. As the communities continue to come to us, we are more than willing to help, if possible. I would like to see the county, cities, and schools band together to meet with the legislature to try to gain more oil and gas production tax back for McKenzie County.
Arnegard: The county should have plenty to do with helping communities developing housing and infrastructure needs. They should work closely with industry and the state to determine what is required and strive to attain these goals. The county should be more than just a tax collector. They should hold the residents responsible to comply with the state law. What about the itinerant residents who fail to get their vehicles licensed in North Dakota? I don’t see any enforcement of current law which requires licensing shortly after moving here.
Chinn: McKenzie County has been aware of the impending energy development for a number of years. In preparation we have partnered with the city to study the feasibility of a housing development in the Liberty Hills subdivision and we have invested in the infrastructure improvements to provide affordable rental and town home units in the city. We recently funded the purchase of senior apartments to insure our elderly and handicapped citizens will not be displaced by the energy impacted housing market.
Substantial investment in rural and city water projects is providing clean and potable water to new and existing rural residents, including improvements to the City of Alexander water system. Rural water now serves the majority of new homes within five miles of the city. These new homes would likely not have been built without this water source. We have supported the initial investment to bring Missouri River water to Watford City and county residents by partnering with the energy industry to make these projects feasible.
McKenzie County has funded our share of the Department of Transportation study to bring the condition of Highway 85 and 23 into the public eye, resulting in major safety improvements on both state highways. We have supported the upgrade of rail service to our agriculture and energy businesses in western McKenzie County and are currently participating in countywide studies to determine impacting on housing, roads and water projects throughout the region. These studies will help determine future needs and to provide legislative input as we try to bring oil tax dollars back from the state for countywide infrastructure improvement.
Our goal has been to invest in quality infrastructure; specifically roads and water to encourage private developers and businesses to locate here and invest and provide economic opportunity for our citizens.
What do you see as being other big issues facing McKenzie County in the next four years and what solutions do you have to meet these issues?
Arnegard: New energy sources such as wind generation should be welcome to the county but within guidelines set by the county. New ideas such as the research station in Sidney that is being built by North Dakota and Montana should be helped and welcomed by the county. Assistance should be given to aid this type of development as the benefits accrued by the county are significant. The county needs to continue to strive to improve the education of the children so that students meet annual yearly progress test scores. Maybe a different priority of tax dollars is in order since this is money that could have been better spent on road improvement and infrastructure.
Chinn: The challenges I see facing McKenzie County in the next four years are:
1. Maintaining and expanding the infrastructure for a growing population. This would include not only roads but also housing, rural water systems, emergency services (law enforcement, fire and rescue, ambulance and medical services).
2. Adequate funding to address the many impacts of an expanding oil and gas industry. McKenzie County is working with the Association of Oil and Gas Producing Counties to quantify these impacts and secure adequate funding through the legislative process to address these impacts.
3. Availability of surfacing (gravel and scoria) for County roads. One of the impacts of the oil and gas industry is a rapidly depleting gravel and scoria inventory in McKenzie County.
4. Maintaining access and use of federal lands. Approximately one-third of McKenzie County consists of federal lands. These lands contribute a significant portion of McKenzie County’s economic base. The County Commission must continue to be involved not only to maintain an adequate level of grazing but also to ensure these lands remain accessible for recreation and responsible development of natural resources.
Lawlar: It is really hard to say what the next four years in McKenzie County will bring. McKenzie County is in an exciting time of growth and expansion. If the oil activity continues like it has been, we will need to continue to keep the roads well maintained. It’s possible the healthcare facilities, crash and rescue or ambulance services may need upgrades with the increased population. We will need to move with caution in these areas because we don’t want to get McKenzie County in the position that we will need to raise taxes. Our fire, crash and rescue and ambulance services are some of the best in the state.
If you could share one message with the voters of McKenzie County as to why they should elect you to serve them, what would it be?
Chinn: McKenzie County will have many challenges in the next four years. We are very fortunate to have the oil and gas industry providing an abundance of jobs to compliment our agriculture economy.
I believe with my previous experience, practical solutions for problem solving and history of the federal land re-acquisition program I am well prepared to serve as a county commissioner. As a board I feel we have been very open to any concerns that residents of McKenzie County have. If re-elected I would support continuing this policy.
Lawlar: I am here for the long haul. I was born and raised in McKenzie County and am a 3rd generation farmer/rancher. I have served two terms as McKenzie County commissioner. My desire is for McKenzie County to be a great place to live, work and raise a family.
Arnegard: As a native son of McKenzie County and with outside experience in infrastructure, I believe the county could use new ideas during this period of growth and economic development. If elected, I will work hard to improve roads in McKenzie County, including secondary roads.