Movies to watch for guys … for free

Guys, do you ever walk in the house at 7 p.m. on a Monday and the woman in your life has commandeered the primary household TV for her ritualistic viewing of “The Bachelor”?

That means you find yourself in front of a tablet or a TV and can’t find anything good to watch, especially now that Monday Night Football is done for the season.

In that case, here are a few films that can be found on Netflix’s streaming service that can tide you over on those boring Mondays (or any other boring day, really).

“Snowpiercer:” This one snuck up on a lot of people last summer. It’s an post-apocalyptic indie action drama financed and directed by South Koreans stars Chris Evans, aka “Captain America,” who rocks a beard. Long story short, the world’s remaining population lives aboard a 3-mile-long train rocketing through the aftermath of a landscape of snow and ice, a byproduct of an experiment to end global warming gone wrong. Don’t worry, it’s all explained quite nicely in the film. It’s an interesting essay in social class structure and is beautifully shot with incredible set pieces — especially considering it’s all set on a train. If you like action movies, it’s a must-watch. If you like dramas that make you think, it’s a must-watch. (Rated R)

“Odd Thomas:” Typically, when I stream movies or TV shows, I’m pretty particular in the ones I pick. This was not one of those picks, and I was pleasantly surprised. I clicked on this one simply because I like the lead actor, Anton Yelchin (“Star Trek”), who plays the title character. Adapted from a Dean Koontz novel of the same name, “Odd Thomas” is a paranormal investigator who can see ghosts. Though somewhat predictable and at times plodding, it’s good sci-fi fare that benefits from Willem Defoe (“Spider-Man,” “Boondock Saints”) in a supporting role and some pretty solid CGI for a low-budget flick. It has heart, humor and decent action, and a touching ending that I didn’t really expect.

“Don Jon:” Do you like Scarlett Johansson? Yes? OK, then watch this. … Well, I guess there’s more to it than that, but not much more. It’s a decent movie with bulked-up Joseph Gordon-Levitt (“Looper,” “The Dark Knight Rises”) playing a gym-tan-laundry New Jersey womanizer who enjoys satisfying his primal urges — until he finds a woman who appears, at least for a time, to be his perfect girl. It’s takes you in directions you’re not expecting and doesn’t end like you think it will. Again, it’s not the greatest movie and is strictly for adults. But it’s a good, quick watch. Also, ’90s kids will laugh out loud when Jon gets caught singing “Good Vibrations.” (Rated: R)

“Stretch:” If you’ve seen “Smokin’ Aces” or “The A-Team,” you know what kind of director Joe Carnahan is. His films are full of quick cuts, crazy action pieces and witty, deranged dialogue. That’s “Stretch” in a nutshell. Patrick Wilson (“Insidious,” “Watchmen”) is a down-on-his-luck limo driver and a wannabe actor while Chris Pine (“Star Trek”) is his out-of-his-mind fare. Jessica Alba, Brooklyn Decker and James Badge Dale are solid in supporting roles. This one takes a bit to get going, but once it does, it’s kind of a hoot. (Rated: R)

“Nick Offerman: American Ham:” The mustachioed comedian and woodworker (seriously) of “Parks and Recreation” fame filmed this stand-up special for Netflix last year and it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. “American Ham” offers his “10 tips for a prosperous life,” which will make you applaud or jeer, depending on where you fall ideologically. There’s laughs for everyone here, from the ultra-conservative to the ultra-liberal, and some things that’ll make both cringe. That’s the mark of a good comedian. Keep everyone squirming. Among his tips (which I won’t completely spoil) are “Go outside. Remain.” and “Eat red meat.” Admit it. That’s kind of genius. (Not Rated)


Spills in the state and a ‘State’ of laughter

Sometimes, you just have to rant. Every once in a while, as Peter Griffin once so eloquently said, there are aspects of life that tend to “grind my gears.” Here are a few of them that popped up last week:

– Here a spill, there a spill: How many oil and saltwater spills and pipeline ruptures does it take to make people realize there aren’t enough safeguards in place?

This past week, our pages were filled with news about energy-related spills, including the news that a recent saltwater spill in Williams County was North Dakota’s biggest of its kind during the current oil boom. There’s still no certainty whether or not the saltwater reached the Missouri River, but it affected at least two creeks that are its tributaries.

The worst of all the spills, however, came last weekend, when an oil pipeline ruptured and leaked 42,000 gallons of Bakken crude into the Yellowstone River near Glendive, Mont., causing the city to deem its drinking water unsafe for several days.

Again, this was Bakken oil, folks. This could very well have happened at Lake Sakakawea — the drinking water source for nearly all of southwest North Dakota — which already has pipelines running beneath it and more in the works.

Here’s to hoping our state leaders learn from these two spills — and the other little ones that happen seemingly every day in western North Dakota — and use them as examples of why enforcing strict rules on the transportation of crude oil and saltwater, and leveling hard fines on those who screw it up, won’t kill the state’s energy industry.

– State of the Comedy Club: Boy, can President Obama crow when there isn’t all that much to crow about! He stood in front of the nation last Tuesday and, as some of the pundits believe, “dropped the mic,” on Republicans with his quip about winning two elections.

But that’s about all the speech was. Lots of quips, a few laughs, some great soundbites for his mixtape and promises that will be hard — if not impossible — to live up to a Republican Congress about as willing to work with the president as he is with them.

Meanwhile, terrorism is rising abroad, the one industry that managed to push the U.S. through a recession — energy — is entering a major slowdown, and the real unemployment rate is hovering around 11 percent and rising, according to figures by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But it’s all good, as long as everyone is laughing and gets free stuff, including …

– Free community college: Now, I’ll never say community college is a bad thing. A lot of people in this country have improved their lives simply by getting a two-year degree. Others have used it as a jumping-off point to great things.

Yet perhaps the greatest aspect of earning that degree is understanding that it didn’t come free. Unless you were very smart and had lots of scholarships. If so, then kudos, because you did the work to earn that free ride.

Now, however, the Obama administration has a plan to give out (mostly) free rides to anyone who wants them.

Under Obama’s proposed plan to offer free community college tuition to qualified students, the government would spend $60 billion a year — a number that would undoubtedly rise in order to make the plan feasible when half the college-age kids in America decide to leech off the system — to pay 75 percent of the average annual cost of a student’s two-year college education with the participating states mandated to cover the rest. The student would have to maintain a 2.5 GPA, but could be a part-time student and still qualify for free tuition.

Many of us with any type of post-secondary education — whether you went to a four-year college, a tech school or hair design school — understand and appreciate the real-world education you get after your days at a higher learning institution are complete and you have to learn how to balance a personal budget in order to pay back student loans.
Unfortunately, that attitude seems lost on many our leaders these days.


Marching for life: 2 Trinity students walk at front of of 750,000 during pro-life rally

Reporters and photographers watch as Trinity High School seniors Quinnlyn Nelson, left, and Brittany Berger walk in the March for Life anti-abortion rally in Washington on Thursday. (Submitted Photo)

Quinnlyn Nelson said it took her a while Thursday to grasp the scope of the moment.

Nelson and fellow Trinity High School senior Brittany Berger were among a select few students from North Dakota Catholic high schools given the opportunity to lead the annual March for Life rally against abortion at the National Mall in Washington.

The march drew an estimated 750,000 pro-life supporters, something Nelson said she didn’t immediately understand as she held the March for Life banner and walked at the very front of the rally.

“We were marching and we were going up this hill, and we looked back and I couldn’t see where the line ended,” Nelson said. “Knowing there are this many people that are passionate about this cause, this issue, was unbelievable.”

Fargo Shanley High School was chosen by organizers to lead this year’s rally and included students from Trinity, Minot Bishop Ryan and Bismarck St. Mary’s by their side. Nelson and Berger represented Trinity at the front of the march, while 53 other students from the school and eight chaperones walked behind them.

“It’s a dream come true for me to be at the front,” said Berger, who attended the march for the third time. “Looking back and seeing thousands and thousands of people, I’ve never seen that many people in one place in my entire life.”

The March for Life began in 1974 as a small pro-life rally against the Roe vs. Wade ruling that established a woman’s right to have an abortion. The decision was issued Jan. 22, 1973, and Thursday marked the ruling’s 42nd anniversary.

Rev. Thomas Grafsgaard, Trinity’s chaplain, led the group and said not only was he pleased with the turnout, but also the level of support he saw from young people from across the nation.

“That’s what brought me the greatest joy today,” Grafsgaard said. “Young people love the church and they want to be challenged. They want to be challenged to the call that Christ has given them.”

Trinity’s students held signs that read “I am the Pro-Life Generation,” “Save the Storks,” and “Defend Life,” among others, and dressed in their school colors with matching red “March for Life” scarfs.

Berger said she was proud to see hundreds of thousands of people around her own age calling for an end to abortion.

“Every year, the pro-life movement gets bigger and younger,” Berger said. “Abortion has always been such a touchy subject. This generation, we want to do something good for the world. We’re taking a look at it and realizing that this is denying human beings the basic human rights to life. We want people to start thinking about it and what it actually does.”

Grafsgaard said not everyone marching in the rally was from a religious group, adding he saw feminist and atheist groups.

“There’s so many different cultures, so many diverse people here and then we have this one thing in common,” Nelson said.

Sierra Roshau, a Trinity graduate and president of Collegians for Life at the University of Mary in Bismarck, said about 40 students from her school attended the rally.

“We all just believe that it’s an important issue and we all are standing firm in it,” said Roshau, who made her fourth trip to the march. “I think just the fact that so many people are willing to come out, travel so far, to walk up and down and stand witness for this; a lot of people believe in it and there are lot of people willing to fight for it. And I think that it’s something that people need to listen to and it’s something we need to change.”

But the March for Life movement wasn’t the only one present in Washington. Pro-choice activists also took to the streets Thursday near the U.S. Supreme Court building to protest the march, and even blocked the anti-abortion group from continuing. Capitol Police detained several pro-choice advocates for attempting to block the march.

During the protests, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill permanently barring federal funding of abortions after Republican leaders dropped harsher anti-abortion legislation due to opposition from some of the party’s moderate lawmakers.

President Barack Obama said in a statement released by the White House that the House-passed bill “would intrude on women’s reproductive freedom and access to health care and unnecessarily restrict the private insurance choices that consumers have.”

The bill that was approved, on a mostly partisan vote of 242-179, prohibits federal subsidies for people using health insurance plans that cover abortions. It faces opposition in the 100-member Senate, where at least 60 votes are needed to clear procedural roadblocks.

In Dickinson, St. Patrick’s Catholic Church held a silent vigil on Third Avenue West, outside of the church.

The gathering drew a crowd of about 100, Rev. Todd Kreitinger estimated. He said people of multiple religious backgrounds were happy “to come out and just be able to show our support, knowing that some of the young people and the others were at the Washington, D.C., March for Life.”

9/11 Memorial both breathtaking, infuriating

One of the most interesting — and mildly infuriating — moments of my wife and I’s recent trip to New York was our visit to the 9/11 Memorial.

First, if you haven’t been to New York, understand that there are a lot of tourists there. And it’s not just Americans. People from all over the world visit the city every day, particularly in the summer. New York, especially Times Square, is very much the proverbial melting pot it’s made out to be, and that extends to the tourists. You can be anywhere in the city and you wouldn’t be able to tell if the person next to you was from North Dakota or Germany, Long Island or Italy.

The only place where we noticed a stark difference between American and foreign tourists was the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero, which we visited along with thousands of others the Sunday before Labor Day.

There, we walked by as people cried or silently soaked in the site and what it meant to New Yorkers and Americans. I did the later, trying to grasp the scope of it all, imagine what it must have been like there 13 years ago today and remember what it felt like that day during my senior year of high school when the world changed. We even overheard one woman tell a person she was with about how she lost her brother that day.

We felt odd taking photos of ourselves beside the memorial, opting instead to take ones of the memorial itself, the beautiful twin waterfalls and reflecting pools, and the new One World Trade Center building, all of which are stunning. The new skyscraper — often called the Freedom Tower, though that isn’t it’s name — that has replaced the twin towers still doesn’t seem real, even when you’re standing right next to it. It’s so shiny, clean and new that it almost looks like a computer-generated image inserted into the Manhattan skyline.

What amazed us most, however, was how many tourists — both foreign and American — did not seem to hold the same attitude we did about site. For some — not all, I must emphasize — it was just another stop on New York City’s parade of tourist attractions, no different than the Trinity Church up the street or the stores along Fifth Avenue.

Little attention seemed to be paid to what the 9/11 Memorial actually meant, or how the twin waterfalls built where the twin towers once stood are meant to symbolize the buildings falling and the loss of life that day, or how they’re meant to be a place of serenity and sanctuary in an otherwise loud and never-resting city.

While walking from the subway to the memorial, we ended up on the same sidewalk as a group of about 20 soldiers dressed in camouflage fatigues. I later concluded from their arm patches that they were a Puerto Rican National Guard unit. We spoke to their two commanding officers who were trailing about 50 feet behind the unit. The offi cers said the soldiers were soon to be deployed overseas and were being taken to the memorial to that day to “see what they’re fighting for.”

As we trailed behind the soldiers, we watched as they walked up to the South Tower waterfall and reflecting pool and had to peered over a crowd of onlookers to try and get their own up-close look at the bronze plates where names of the 2,983 victims are inscribed.

While no one else there — aside from the soldiers themselves — knew that these men and women were about to head overseas to serve our country, we found it disheartening and a bit maddening that crowds of people — certainly a mix of both American or foreigner tourists — opted not to stand aside and allow the soldiers an opportunity to a look at the memorial.

After a couple minutes, most people seemed to realize that a large group of soldiers was standing behind them and, eventually, they stepped aside.

Still, I couldn’t help but think that if this would have happened a couple years after the events of 9/11, everyone would have graciously and immediately stepped aside for the soldiers. It got me thinking.

Have we already forgotten our history about 9/11? Do we not understand that the memorial was built to remember nearly 3,000 American and foreign lives lost that day (12 percent of those who died on 9/11 were foreign nationals or visitors)? Do we not understand that our soldiers are still fighting terrorists who threaten our way of life?

My visit to Ground Zero was a stark reminder of what happened 13 years ago and how this terrible loss of life changed our society. I believe the 9/11 Memorial accomplishes that, even if some don’t see it that way.


NYC honeymoon an unforgettable experience

On the Brooklyn Bridge.

Honeymoon Photo Gallery

After getting married in June, Sarah and I knew we weren’t going to be able to take a honeymoon immediately after the wedding. She didn’t have enough vacation time saved up to do anything worthwhile and the newspaper wasn’t in a place where its editor could be gone for two weeks.

So we waited and debated our options. Did we want to go big or small? Would we go tropical or touristy? I told her I was neither rich enough nor handsome enough to spend my time just sitting on a beach without a shirt. As a redhead, she has her own misgivings of spending all day in the sun, so a trip to the tropics was instantly nixed. Neither of us also didn’t want to go anywhere we had already been, which seemed like nearly everywhere.

After debating on trips to both the East and West Coasts for months, we finally decided on a five-day vacation to New York City over the Labor Day weekend. It was one place where neither of us had been and somewhere we both desperately wanted to experience.

Of course, the reporter in me felt it necessary not to walk into the busiest city in the world completely blind. So I did my research and asked several people for pointers, including both my publisher, our company’s CEO and two of my reporters, as well as an old college buddy who is a native New Yorker and one of The Press’ contributing columnists who lives in Lower Manhattan.

Their advice: Do the touristy stuff, admire the skyline, soak in Central Park, spend too much money on at least one meal at a fancy restaurant, visit the Top of the Rock and overlook the city, go somewhere tourists wouldn’t regularly go, and, of course, do something unforgettable.

We did all of the above and more as New York City gave us plenty of unforgettable experiences and memories that are sure to last a lifetime.

We walked up and down the busy streets of Times Square, watched the crazy people, had our caricature drawn by a street artist, and took a double-decker bus tour of Manhattan and Brooklyn.

We overlooked the city from the Top of Rockefeller Center and viewed the Manhattan skyline at night from the Brooklyn Bridge Park and during the day on the Staten Island Ferry.

We went to “The Lion King” on a Broadway stage and shared a spaghetti dinner at a popular spot on Restaurant Row.

We gazed upon the 9/11 Memorial, admiring its beauty and simultaneous sadness.

On Labor Day, we watched kids play with their remote-control sailboats in a Central Park pond as the sun melted into the park’s western treeline only minutes after I had been picked to participate in a street show next to the iconic Bethesda Fountain by The Afrobats, a widely-known street performance acrobat and comedy group. (I’m sure someone has uploaded the video to YouTube by now).

On a 95-degree afternoon, we walked around Liberty Island and admired the Statue of Liberty before wandering the halls of the Main Building on Ellis Island, where generations ago our ancestors walked as they entered America.

We sat in Yankee Stadium and watched Derek Jeter — in the final month of his Hall of Fame career — stretch out a highlight-reel single against the Red Sox.

We felt like real New Yorkers when we walked into Grimaldi’s Pizza in the Flatiron District late one night and shared one of the best pepperoni pies we’ve ever had and enjoyed a cannoli on the house.

For Sarah’s birthday the night before we left, we dined at a Central Park restaurant most people only see in movies and followed it with a romantic carriage ride through the park.

We walked down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan as Sarah shopped and I admired the architecture of skyscrapers as well as the people who buzzed in and out of them, acting more important than they probably are.

We walked until our feet and knees hurt, and then walked some more. We sweated in the steamy urban jungle on a hot night. We experienced an “air quality alert.” We found out that getting in the right New York City Subway car can make all the difference in starting the day out right. We discovered the gloriousness of Uber. We returned to North Dakota thankful for all of our experiences, but glad to be home where the air is clean, the food is still pretty affordable, the people are friendly and the traffi c isn’t nearly as bad as we think it is.

Watford City’s student count up by 19 percent

WATFORD CITY — School enrollment in North Dakota’s fastest-growing small town has increased by 19 percent since May.

Enrollment in the McKenzie County School District, based in Watford City, increased by 255 students since the end of the 2013-14 school year, Superintendent Steve Holen said Wednesday.

“We’re doing as best we can,” Holen said.

The school district has about 1,330 students in grades K-12, Holen said, with more expected to arrive after Labor Day. Watford City started last year with about 1,020 students, he said.

“We were ready for it,” Holen said, adding that the district has been preparing for as many students as possible. “We knew these numbers were coming.”

The superintendent said the district’s facilities are at capacity and students have overflowed into six modular classrooms and labs. Schools are using space set aside for storage and the teacher’s lounge at the elementary school.

Holen said the district believed it would reach this many students by the 2015-16 school year.

School district voters overwhelmingly approved a bond initiative in March to build a new high school in Watford City. The school is tentatively scheduled to be open by the second semester of 2015-16, Holen said .

“We’ll defi nitely need the space at that point,” he said. “If we have another year like this next fall, we’re really going to be pressed for space.”

This year’s initial enrollment is nearly double what it was heading into the 2011-12 school year, when the district opened the year with about 700 students. In 2007-08, the district had 512 students.

This year, the district’s three largest classes are fi rst grade (136), kindergarten (131) and second grade (130). The senior class is the smallest with 75. “Those are big classes for us,” Holen said. “More growth will happen just from top grades dropping off and bottom grades filling those spots.”


Dickinson needs a longterm population solution

Last week, one of my work colleague’s struck up a conversation with a Dickinson newcomer who had recently moved here from Idaho.

The man said he had left an economically depressed area but was doing well here. Still, he had no intention of bringing his family to Dickinson so that he could both work and live here. Why not? It was economically infeasible for him to do so. He was making good money but not enough to find an affordable living situation to make the move work.

So, here the man stays, working hard away from his family and sending most of the money he earns in North Dakota back to his real home. Like so many others, he’s not much more than a visitor to our city and state.

This man’s story shows a reality of what’s really happening in Dickinson and western North Dakota.

While some people move here as families, there are far more (almost exclusively men) in the Oil Patch by themselves and sending money back to their families in another state.

I’ve heard of cases where the families just didn’t want to come, and that’s understandable. Others, like the man from Idaho, can’t make the economics work for various reasons. Some are saving money until their families can join them here — with the caveat that a suitable place to live is found fi rst. Many, however, aren’t here for the long haul. They want the paycheck and the experience, and then they’re gone.

So why are we even in this situation in the first place?

The answer, of course, is supply and demand. When the population explosion began, western North Dakota didn’t have enough homes and apartments to keep up with the demand, so prices naturally climbed.

But seemingly every day, we’re told that places like Dickinson and Williston are catching up. Everywhere you look, we’re reminded of this with construction of more housing — whether it’s single-family homes or apartments — and expansion of the city in nearly every direction. Yet, home prices are still well over market value, and apartment and townhome rental prices force people to squeeze more into a living space than they probably should.

Drive by some of the new developments in Dickinson and it’s clear to see there are more than a few violations of the city municipal code stating that no more than four unrelated individuals should live in a housing unit. But what are these people supposed to do? Spend half their paycheck (or more) on renting 800 square feet of space that serves as little more than a place to rest their head?

A friend told me this week that Dickinson can’t “grow as a city entirely on oilfield workers and truck drivers.” And he’s absolutely right. How can one afford to be a teacher, a nurse, a waitress, a custodian or work at any type of unskilled labor job that pays an hourly wage?

Countless businesses in the city — many established for decades — are giving housing stipends along with record wages just to keep those people from leaving for places like Bismarck, Fargo, Billings, Mont., or Rapid City, S.D. — cities once thought of as more expensive alternatives than Dickinson.

Last Wednesday, the people representing and working with the Baron’s Group of Companies on its Baron’s Vista development planned for west Dickinson said the development calls for smaller lots than designated under city code. Yet, the projected starting home price would be between $180,000 and $240,000. That means, for low-end housing in that development, one would still be looking at a monthly mortgage payment of around $900 after taxes with no down payment. I commend the people behind Baron’s for trying to give Dickinson some “affordable” housing options, but what is “affordable” to some still isn’t to many — especially when the value of the smaller lot is factored in.

Baron’s wants to build a mega mall and a high-rise hotel. Five Diamonds Funds Managers is trying to bring a new shopping center and movie theater to west Dickinson. Roers’ West Ridge Development is coming along nicely but has had a fluctuating list of potential tenants since it was announced.

Brian Hymel, a developer for Five Diamonds, told me earlier this month that some businesses simply don’t pay attention to the number of people in a trade area. They look at the number of rooftops — and Dickinson just doesn’t have enough rooftops. None of these developments stand a chance to attract the businesses southwest North Dakotans want and need without some sort of settling down of housing and apartment prices.

People are still coming to Dickinson and southwest North Dakota, and there’s no end in sight to the growth. Still, many them aren’t here to stay.

It’s up to the city to find a reasonable and realistic solution to fix that — and soon. I want people like the man from Idaho and so many others to be able to bring their families to Dickinson and southwest North Dakota. I want their wives to fi nd good jobs alongside of them. I want their kids to be in our school systems. I want them to be a part of a Dickinson community — not just someone who is passing through.

Noodle vs. The Bunny

Noodle vs. The Bunny

Sometimes, I wonder if my dog doesn’t have an inner monologue that only other animals can hear. Like a cartoon character.

If you read my column, you probably know I love our dog, Noodle, a 2½-year-old Schnoodle who has become more like a kid than a pet. But maybe what I love about him the most is that he just keeps getting weirder and weirder.

Case in point is this summer’s saga of Noodle vs. The Bunny.

Our neighborhood always seems to have a rabbit hopping around. A year ago, it was a big, mature rabbit that must have been a few years old. This year, it’s a small, young, brown bunny. And he (or she) is kind of a punk.

More times than I can count this summer, I’ve let Noodle outside on his leash, only to see The Bunny sitting in our courtyard — far enough away so that Noodle has no way of getting to him. Meanwhile, Noodle runs back and forth, staring at The Bunny and intermittently whining and howling (he’s half-poodle, so it’s really more of a high-pitched, ear-piercing cry).

When Noodle comes back inside, he goes to the front window just in time to see The Bunny run back to the bush in front of our house, where he apparently lives. Cue more crying and howling.

Sometimes I wonder if The Bunny isn’t outside of our window every night, teasing and taunting Noodle.

“Hey dog! I’m right outside. Why don’t you come and chase me? Oh, that’s right, you can’t because you’re locked in the house! Hahahaha!”

Cue Noodle howling and barking like a maniac and sprinting to the front door. (This usually happens around 4 a.m.)

Typically, when he does this at night, he is warning us that we need to let him out quick before he does his business inside. That hasn’t been the case since The Bunny came along.

We hook Noodle to his outdoor leash, let him out the door — which he exits as fast as his legs can carry him — and his nose immediately hits the ground, searching for The Bunny. He always winds up in the bush.

“I’m gonna get you, bunny! Where are you?”

Even during Friday night’s rain, when Noodle told us he had to go outside, instead of doing what needed to be done, he decided to — in the downpour — check out The Bunny’s lair, just out of Noodle’s reach.

“I don’t care how wet I get, you stupid bunny! I’m not going anywhere until you come out.” I’ve debated calling animal control to come over, trap The Bunny and take it to a more open space so this saga can end. But there’s no guarantee.

The Bunny will be any safer out on the prairie than in our yard.

So, until winter comes or until The Bunny finds a better lair, we may just have to watch the ongoing saga of Noodle and The Bunny.

New England awarded $5M in funding for water infrastructure

NEW ENGLAND — The city of New England has received $5 million in funding to help get its water infrastructure project in the ground.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Friday that it is giving a $2.7 million loan and awarding a $2.2 million grant to the city of about 750 to help improve and replace its water infrastructure. The water pipes and sewer system New England uses now were installed in 1947.

“It’s a tremendous undertaking for the city of New England,” said Mayor Marty Opdahl.

The total cost of the project, which will be done in four phases, is about $17 million. That, Opdahl said, “was too much to bite off at once.”

The city council passed two motions earlier this month, the first to apply for the loan and grant, and the second to name Moore Engineering the project’s facilitators.

The first phase of the project is expected to begin in spring 2015, Opdahl said.

The project will first address the north side of New England, which has the lowest water pressure in the city, as well as areas where fire hydrant flow is inadequate.

“This grant came through a lot faster than we thought,” Opdahl said. “… I’m excited we already have news of that.”

The funding was available through the USDA’s Water and Waste Disposal Direct Loans and Grants Program, which supports the development of water systems in rural areas and towns with less than 10,000 residents. Bill Davis, the deputy director for USDA Rural Development in Bismarck, said New England’s loan has a 40-year term.

“These funds will allow New England to make needed replacements without putting its town’s budget in the red,” Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., stated in a news release.

Rep. Mike Schatz, R-New England, said he was encouraged to hear not only that the city had received the funding, but also where the help is coming from.

“It’s going to make it very affordable for us,” he said. “That’s what has to happen in these small towns. You don’t have that many residents. Even though we have a lot of residents right now — more than we normally do — but still in all, in order to pay for a project of that magnitude, you’re going to have to up taxes a lot. And, you know, a lot of people are on fixed incomes. They’re not able to do that. This is a good thing for us. That’s what it should be for.”

Despite Hettinger County not having any oil wells, New England is only a few miles away from the borders of both Slope and Stark counties — both of which produce oil — and has had its population increase by about 150 to 200 residents in the past three years, city auditor Jason Jung said.

Schatz said he wants to help get New England state funding for the project in the next legislative session.

“We’re in oil country,” Schatz said. “We’re supplying a service here. A lot of the overflow from Dickinson is coming here. It’s good for us, it’s good for them. But we do have to get our infrastructure up to date because if there is a big influx, we’re going to have to be ready.”

A big aspect of the infrastructure project is a new water tower that would be smaller than New England’s current 550,000-gallon tank, Opdahl said. He said New England leaders believe a 150,000-gallon tank would be adequate. The larger tank, located on the north side of the city, will still be available, Opdahl said, but could eventually be used for commercial bulk sales.

“The water tower was inadequately sized,” Opdahl said. “It was actually too large. We have not been able to fill up the water tower without our water going stale. If we could fi ll it up all the way, that would help our pressure problems immensely around town.”

Beach considers rezoning for grain co-op rail spur

BEACH — A proposed rail spur that could determine the future of Beach’s only grain elevator has spurred debate.

The Beach Grain Cooperative, struggling to stay relevant against larger competition, has asked the city to rezone about 156 acres on the east side of Beach from agricultural to commercial so it can build a $7 million railroad track expansion to help load 110-unit train cars.

“There’s a lot of interest,” said Al Begger, chair of Beach’s zoning board. “A lot of farmers are concerned. There are some of the people who live in houses that are going to be close to this.”

Residents who own property near where the proposed spurt say they understand Beach Grain’s need, but don’t want to see it put in their backyard — literally.

Heather Jandt spoke with The Press but asked that she be quoted from the statement she and her husband, Troy, wrote in opposition to the zoning request. The Jandts were one of multiple Beach residents and farmers who spoke either against or for the proposed expansion at the July 17 zoning board meeting, which attracted more than 100 people.

The zoning change will again be discussed and the application reviewed during a city zoning board meeting at 8 a.m. Monday at Beach City Hall.

The Jandts are building a house on Sixth Avenue Southeast, which is directly west of where the proposed rail spur would be constructed.

“We struggle to comprehend the need to create these hazards and disturbances in the immediate vicinity so close to what currently is a growing, safe, quiet residential area, primarily families with young children,” the Jandts wrote. “Other options are available which meet traditional zoning and the establishment of transitional buffer zones.”

Paul Latenschlager, manager of Beach Grain, said he thought getting land rezoned from agricultural to commercial for a rail spur would be easy compared to dealing with BNSF Railway, contractors and landowners.

“I just didn’t expect the city to put up such a disagreement about it,” Latenschlager said.

‘The only option’

Latenschlager said “this is the only option,” affordable to his elevator and will allow it to continue receiving the grain cars it needs from BNSF. With its current setup, Beach Grain can only load 52-car trains.

Beach Grain has an agreement to purchase the land from Too Far Farms if it is rezoned. The area is south of Main Street and extends from Sixth Avenue Southeast east to Highway 16 and south to 35th Street Southwest, a Golden Valley County rural road.

“The railroad has dictated to us and to the industry that that’s how they want to load the grain,” Latenschlager said. “There’s a significant freight advantage to loading 110 cars over single cars.”

Building a new facility outside of town with a circle track isn’t feasible for the amount of grain the cooperative moves, Latenschlager said.

“We’ve been looking at a rail plan since 2008 and we finally have a plan that’s been approved by the railroad,” Latenschlager said. “We’re trying to use our existing facility.”

He said Beach Grain struggles against competitors who offer higher prices for spring wheat and durum. On Friday, 14 protein spring wheat closed the day at $5.35 at the Beach Grain Cooperative. It was $5.58 at the Southwest Grain Boyle Terminal outside of Gladstone and $5.67 at Farmers Elevator in Glendive, Mont. “We’re not competitive anymore,” Latenschlager said. If the rezoning application does not pass, he said, Beach Grain will cut its wheat volume in half and focus more on specialty crops. “We’re not going to try and compete because we’ll lose money,” Latenschlager said.

Promises and precedents

Latenschlager told those attending the July 17 zoning board meeting that Beach Grain plans to utilize the rail spur approximately once a month for about 24 hours at a time when it is loading rail cars. Those in opposition, like the Jandts, say those are “verbal promises” and could change at any time.

“Could you or your family sleep through that?” the Jandts wrote in their statement.

Heather Jandt said her family rents a house about 260 feet from the tracks now. They chose to build their new house further from the tracks to get away from the noise, they said. Instead, they could end up even closer. The proposed rail spur would be about 150 feet from their house.

The Jandts say they are concerned about disturbances during the construction period and once the rail spur is in use. They are worried about noise, their children’s safety and the aesthetics of the lot they purchased being changed.

“It is extremely disheartening that when we move, we could face these unfortunate challenges which could, by your rejection of this proposal, be avoided,” the Jandts wrote. “We did not choose and do not want an environment which poses everyday dangers to our family.”

Latenschlager said he is hopeful the zoning board will approve the rezoning of the land and that the city will eventually approve the rail spur.

He pointed to a precedent the Beach City Council and zoning board set earlier this year, when it used its jurisdictional authority over Golden Valley County to rezone 275 acres immediately west of town from agricultural to industrial for a railport to be built by Utahbased Beach Railport. That railport will bring in oilfield commodities such as frac sand and pipe and will eventually ship oil.

“I guess if they want the town of Beach to go oil other than agriculture, that’s their decision,” Latenschlager said. “It’s not necessarily wrong. We’ve been here for 100 years. These people from Utah come in and get it zoned for oil. The direction they want the city to go is what they have to decide.”

Dickinson needs more events like concert

Gwen Sebastian and her band perform Tuesday evening at the Alive@5 street concert in Dickinson.

I stood on the roof of the old Elks Building in downtown Dickinson on Thursday night and said to someone, “Why don’t we do this more often?”
And I didn’t mean standing on top of one of downtown’s tallest buildings, though the view was pretty great. Of course, I’m talking about the Alive@5 free street concerts by Gwen Sebastian and Outlaw Sippin’, and everything else that went along with it, from the local law enforcement’s National Night Out to the beer gardens outside of The Rock, bouncy castles for the kids and some pretty delicous food vendors on First Avenue West.

Nights like that need to happen more often in Dickinson, and this city is getting to a point where it cannot only make that happen, it has a population that wants to see it happen.

First of all, kudos to Eric Smallwood and his crew of Alive@5 volunteers, who put in countless hours to make sure the evening went as planned. There were hiccups — including a 2-year-old boy who couldn’t be found just as Gwen Sebastian was ready to take the stage (they found him thanks to help from the crowd) — but, for the most part, everyone seemed to have a great time without any problems.

It was different than anything I’ve seen in Dickinson, probably ever. A couple thousand people showed up for a community-organized event that was not part of Roughrider Days in the heart of summer, when there were plenty of other entertainment options. Plus, it was on a weeknight, so I’m sure there were many who couldn’t come for one reason or another.

It didn’t matter. The streets downtown were packed and people were clearly enjoying themselves.

One of my friends, a local business owner, told me “this is the coolest thing” he had seen in Dickinson since moving back a few years ago. He and several others said we need more events like this.

As many of you know, there have been some consistent themes among newcomers and people who have moved back to the area in recent years. They want more shopping options, lower cost of living, more places to eat and, simply put, more to do.

Eric and the Alive@5 crew proved last week that it’s possible to give Dickinson residents something to do if you just put in the time to make it great.

He was lucky enough to have a bunch of local businesses step up to help defer the cost of getting Sebastian — a Hebron native and national record artist — and her band to Dickinson for the performance.

So what’s next?

First of all, the community needs to keep doing stuff like this to continue breathing life back into downtown Dickinson. This event, and previous Alive@5 Thursday nights, proved that if you give people something to do, they’ll show up. It also shows that doing a little pavement pounding and asking area businesses to kick in sponsorships can go a long way in creating something cool that’ll keep people will remember.

After that, let’s break out of the box a little bit. What else can we do or bring to Dickinson? On Saturday, the Latino community organized a family fun day at the Dickinson Recreation Center. That’s something this city had never seen before, and it’s a good thing for everyone. If you have an idea, look into it. If you’re new to town and want to become more involved, join a nonprofi t and start working on your ideas. Odds are, you’re going to find likeminded individuals who also want to help create more opportunities for the community.

August rains could be good for late crops

Early August rainfall could be a blessing for crops that were planted later than usual, area farmers and agronomists said this week.

The first week of August in southwest North Dakota — typically hot and dry — was defined by heavy rains, daily showers, early-morning fog and below-normal temperatures.

It’s not exactly the type of weather farmers like to see — at least in a normal year. But this has not been a normal growing year.

Heavy spring rains meant everything from spring wheat to corn and sunflowers was planted later than usual. However, that setback means the August rains could be great for the crops that are a little behind.

“It’s actually a perfect rain for the fall crops, the corn and sunflowers,” said Ben Kuhn, who farms with his father, Jeff, south of Dickinson. “There’s a lot of later wheat in the area that’ll make a heck of a crop now.”

The Kuhn farm is just south of the Dickinson Theodore Roosevelt Regional Airport, which has recorded 2.48 inches of rain this month, according to the National Weather Service.

North of Regent, Cyrus Hartman said the rain came at a good time for broadleaf crops and grains planted in lighter ground.

“It was getting pretty dry,” in the sandier ground, Hartman said. “Some of this heavier stuff up in our area really didn’t need anymore. But you take some of the good with the bad.”

Rural areas near Regent and Rhame had huge rainfalls reported earlier this week, according to the National Weather Service.

Hartman said land he farms northeast of Regent missed out on some very heavy rains, but said he had heard farmers report up to 5 inches in some places near where he farms. The city of Regent has received 2.36 inches for the month, according to the National Weather Service.

Patrick Ayd, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Bismarck, said the Rhame area received 5.65 inches of rain from Tuesday night into Wednesday morning.

While wheat can benefit from the late rain, it still likely won’t mean much in the grand scheme, said Patrick Carr, an agronomist at the NDSU Research Extension Center in Dickinson.

“We planted some wheat really late here and it’s far enough along that this rain, in terms of really impacting the yield of that crop or quality, it’s not going to do too much.” Carr said. “I’m not speaking for farmers, but I’m saying we planted some of our stuff awful late and it’s awful far along. So we may be an anomaly. But that’s what I’ve observed.”

Carr said the rain has caused some grain crops to lodge, or lay down. The same is happening for area farmers where spring wheat or durum is heavier.

Chris Binstock, an agronomist for CHS Inc., said the rain will undoubtedly help the late corn, sunflowers and bean crops but could cause problems for wheat that is in different growing stages — especially the areas that received as much as 5 inches.

“You might see a little bit more disease prevalence out there with the spring wheat,” he said. “With the humidity in the air and the cool, damp mornings, there’s more of a chance of that happening.”

In terms of precipitation, Dickinson is still far off the monthly record of 5.55 inches set in August 1954. The airport has reported 2.48 inches so far this month. However, Ayd said areas like Bowman and Rhame — where professional records are not kept — may have already broken their monthly records if Dickinson’s record is used as a gauge.

Ayd said the forecast appears to be settling down with a return to normal temperatures and precipitation in the forecast.

“It looks like this wet pattern we have is not going to continue the rest of the month,” Ayd said. “I think we’ve met our quota for rainfall here on the earlier end of the month.”

IN DEVELOPMENT: Dickinson Hills, West Ridge face hurdles while moving forward

For about three years, Brian Hymel has split his time between Dickinson and Salt Lake City. His wife doesn’t really like it, and neither do his children. It’s tough to say goodbye to them every couple weeks when he returns to North Dakota for work, he said.

But unlike many of the people drawn to western North Dakota over the past five years, Hymel isn’t directly connected to oil. Instead, he and his partners are in the process of building areas to serve the people coming to Dickinson because of work related to the Oil Patch.

Their latest project, the 98-acre Dickinson Hills Shopping Center mixed-use development along Interstate 94, is aimed at attracting both new and longtime residents.

“We really like the community and felt that even without oil and gas, there’d still be growth and some demand,” said Hymel, a partner with development group Five Diamond Fund Managers. “We, as a group, have spent a lot of time doing research and we feel very, very comfortable, and that’s why we’re doing the size of projects we’re doing here.”

Dirt work for Dickinson Hills is nearly complete with underground and street work set to begin soon, said Hymel, whose group also owns the Five Diamond Industrial Park north of Dickinson on the south Dunn County line.

Unlike the industrial park, however, Dickinson Hills is about to become one of the most visible areas of the growing city.

The planned development is situated directly south of Exit 59, across 30th Avenue West from the new CHI St. Joseph’s hospital and the Sanford Health Dickinson Clinic. One of the shopping center’s entry points will be Fairway Street.

Hymel calls the complex “undoubtedly the best piece of property in southwest North Dakota.”

It’s also just across the freeway from Roers’ similar West Ridge development, which Hymel said got a “head start.”

Despite being in competition, both Hymel and Larry Nygard, Roers’ vice president of development, acknowledge that the two areas will eventually benefit from each other.

They also know that getting businesses to commit to the area hasn’t been easy.

“Everyone has heard of the Bakken. Everyone knows North Dakota,” Hymel said. “They don’t understand some of the trade area issues.”
Patiently building

Both Hymel and Nygard said perceived market size is one of the biggest hurdles in bringing retailers, hotels and popular restaurant chains to Dickinson.

The U.S. Census Bureau put Dickinson’s population at about 19,700 in 2010, which city offi cials believe is now inaccurate. Today, estimates place the town’s population — including both full-time and part-time residents — anywhere between 20,000 to 30,000. That doesn’t include the Dickinson’s gradually growing trade area of southwest North Dakota, eastern Montana or northwest South Dakota.

Many major chains, the developers said, are often hesitant to build in Dickinson, despite the city’s growth.

“Unless they’re somewhere else in the Bakken and they’ve felt the impact of it, it’s really hard to bring in a new national chain from outside,” Hymel said on Tuesday. “No, this isn’t a boom and bust. This is an industry and it’s here to stay. We need more retail. We need more food.”

Along with that, Hymel said, Dickinson needs more rooftops if it wants to attract businesses.

Dickinson Hills has 160 apartment units in its plans while West Ridge has three apartment complexes with more under construction and has purchased an additional 40 acres near the development with plans to build townhomes, condos and single-family units.

“We’ll probably see a few starts this year,” Nygard said. “I expect the bulk of that activity to start next year. We do hope to get some things going this year.

“I think there’s a real market for reasonably priced home lots, and so we’re excited about that.”
Challenges in development

While Dickinson Hills is still about a year away from seeing its first business open — Hymel hopes two hotels committed to the development break ground this fall — West Ridge has slowly been gathering steam since Menards opened in January.

Buffalo Wild Wings, Family Fare supermarket and liquor store — part of the SpartanNash distribution chain that also owns EconoFoods — Tractor Supply Co. and a large retail center are all under construction. Nygard said a Hilton Garden Inn Hotel and Convention Center will likely break ground east of Menards later this year.

He said many of those brands should help bring other businesses into a community.

“Those are kind of market leaders in their respective categories,” he said. “Them starting to plop down in your community, in your development, that does give a lot of others confi dence because there are those who follow their models to the letter.”

Some businesses that were initially committed to West Ridge when it was announced in 2012 have most recently been linked with Dickinson Hills.

Hymel said Dollar Tree, Petco and JoAnn Fabrics are committed to his project. Five Diamonds is in talks with movie theater chains, as well as restaurants and big-box stores.

Cash Wise Foods also had been linked to both developments over the past two years. However, Coborn’s Inc. is still brokering a deal through Twin Cities-based Oppidan Investment Co. to find a Dickinson home for the supermarket, Hymel said. Though Dickinson Hills plans call for the supermarket to be its centerpiece, Coborn’s has not offi cially signed on.

“Dickinson looks like a great market for us to come to, so we’ll get there,” said Rebecca Kurowski, communications manager for Coborn, Cash Wise’s parent company. “We just don’t know exactly when or exactly where.”

Hymel said he’s shocked that Cash Wise hasn’t started building yet because it has “put up some significant resources.” Aside from that, he hopes the company will come because “Dickinson needs another grocery store.”

Similarly, Nygard said Roers’ deal to bring Odyssey Theaters to West Ridge is on hold. Odyssey now has the three-screen movie theater in the Prairie Hills Mall. The theater company planned to build a larger complex in West Ridge.

“I wish I could tell you that theater is going to come for sure,” Nygard said Tuesday. “We really wanted them in there and we worked hard to get them in there.”
Meeting consumer needs

Though both developments have had their issues getting businesses to commit, Nygard said he hopes things start coming together soon, if only to address consumer needs.

“Part of the problem with the Bakken is up to this point, we’ve seen a lot of the bad out of it,” Nygard said. “I just put myself in the place of an everyday Dickinson resident who was there before the latest boom. You could walk into a restaurant and sit down. Life was pretty good. Now, you’ve got none of that. How has your life gotten any better? It doesn’t get better until the commercial enterprises that address your consumer needs start to change.”

In the past 12 months, restaurants such as Famous Dave’s and Fuddruckers have announced they planned to build in Dickinson. So far, neither have broken ground, but the day that more restaurants begin opening could be fast approaching, Hymel said.

“The restaurant piece of the puzzle will change pretty dramatically — especially when the hospital opens,” he said. “For our location, at least, we’ve had a lot of interest. I can’t really discuss some of the companies we’re working with yet, but we’ve had a lot of interest, a lot of dialogue. We’ve had a lot of exploratory trips helping them to better understand the Bakken.”

Hymel and Nygard said they’re constantly in contact with retailers and restaurants, trying to fill the lots for lease in their developments. But getting those businesses to commit millions of dollars can be challenging — especially when North Dakota’s weather element factors into exterior construction.

Dickinson Hills wants to be at a point where it can get footings and foundations into the ground before “before the snow flies” this fall, Hymel said.

“Realistically, it’s North Dakota,” he added. “It all depends on the weather.”

However, he pointed to Menards as an example of how quickly mixed-use developments can spring up if foundations are in place before winter.

“What I envision for the next 24 months is I’d really like to see (Dickinson Hills) completely fi nished,” Hymel said before cracking a smile. “It may take a bit longer than that, but that’s what I keep telling my wife.”

CHI St. Joseph’s secures new medical helicopter

It didn’t take long for CHI St. Joseph’s Health to find a replacement for its medical helicopter service.

Grand Forks-based Valley Med Flight agreed Tuesday to base a medical helicopter at the helipad of the new St. Joseph’s hospital under construction in Dickinson. Valley Med Flight will also provide fixed-wing aircraft support to southwest North Dakota from its existing bases.

“Our No. 1 concern is access for our patients,” said Reed Reyman, president of CHI St. Joseph’s Health. “We just know that a helicopter needs be based here and we know we have to have access to fixed wing, so we did all we could to get this in place.”

The agreement comes one week after Med-Trans Corp. announced it was terminating service of the Spirit Lifeline helicopter that had been based the hospital construction site for only a year.

Valley Med Flight is expected to have a Eurocopter AS350 B3e helicopter operating from the St. Joseph’s helipad by Oct. 1, Reyman said.

The medical service already has a footprint in western North Dakota, with a helicopter based at CHI Mercy Medical Center in Williston and fixed-wing aircraft bases in Williston and Sidney, Mont.

“We are very familiar with the payer information in North Dakota, as well as we have fixed-wings located throughout the state of North Dakota to be immediate available for inclement weather — which is very common in the North Dakota region in the winter time,” said Ben Dorman, vice president of Medical Operations and founder of Valley Med Flight.

Helicopters can’t fl y in bad weather or in low cloud cover, making the fixed-wing support crucial, Dorman said.

Dorman said it is also helpful to patients that Valley Med Flight is familiar with North Dakota insurance companies and policies, which he said helps keep the cost of using his service relatively affordable. The Spirit Lifeline medical helicopter cost about $25,000 before insurance, according to previous Press articles.

Dorman said the “average out-of-pocket cost to patients” who use Valley Med Flight is $470.

“We operate in a lot of smaller areas,” Dorman said. “Obviously, if we were taking peoples homes and cars, we wouldn’t be in business anymore.”

Reyman said the existing relationship between St. Joseph’s parent company Catholic Health Initiatives’ and Valley Med Flight helped in getting a deal worked out.

“We were very fortunate we got on this,” he said. “This is the really nice part about being part of a large system such as CHI. We were able to get the contacts we needed and tap into some of the relationships that had already been built to make this happen as quickly as it did. That’s very helpful.”

Reyman said he expects a “long-term partnership” between CHI St. Joseph’s Health and Valley Med Flight.

“We’re anxious for them to come just because we know the community needs it,” he said.

Survey says …

We asked. You answered. The Press survey results show readers have mixed feelings on the boom’s impact; feel Dickinson is a worse place than it was 5 years ago.  

The oil boom has changed Dickinson and southwest North Dakota’s way of life — and a majority of people don’t like it, according to a Dickinson Press survey.

Of the 1,310 readers who voted in the survey online or through the newspaper over the last two weeks, 57 percent said they don’t believe the area is a better place than it was fi ve years ago. Sixty-four percent have mixed feelings on the energy industry’s impact on the area, saying it has brought a combination of good and bad impacts.

In response to the survey’s results, Dickinson Mayor Dennis Johnson said he understands there is a “signifi cant minority” who have been negatively impacted by the oil boom, whether it’s because of increased housing costs, a higher cost of living or everyday issues, such as dealing with increased traffi c or longer lines at the grocery store.

“In general, what’s happening here is good,” Johnson said. “But it isn’t good for everybody.” Energy and population

Only 16 percent of those who took the survey — 208 readers — said they worked in the energy industry. Those readers viewed oil and energy’s impact on the area only slightly different than those who don’t work in the industry, with nearly the same percentage of people saying it has had both good and bad effects on the region.

Of the nearly 300 people ages 34 and under who took the survey, 24 percent responded that they worked in the energy industry. Fifty-fi ve percent of that demographic believe Dickinson and southwest North Dakota is not a better place than it was fi ve years ago.

Johnson said he thinks the reason some people believe Dickinson is now worse is because of the impact and stress the population increase has had on infrastructure. The mayor said the city is doing as much as it can to catch up, but that it takes time.

An example of this would be the weekend outdoor water-use ban brought on by historic usage and stressed city systems.

“The kind of infrastructure we have to build, it’s not something we can do overnight,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he believes Dickinson has between 25,000 and 30,000 people now — the 2010 U.S. Census counted 17,787 — but the city won’t do a special census unless it is confi dent the permanent population is above 25,000, not including those who may be here temporarily and claim residence elsewhere.

“If we can show we have 25,000 people or more, our extraterritorial zoning authority would extend four miles instead of two miles,” Johnson said, adding developers would also be able to bring in more amenities like stores and restaurants.
What we need

When asked, “What do you think we need more of in Dickinson and southwest North Dakota?” nearly every demographic viewed supermarkets and big-box stores, with examples such as Target and Sam’s Club provided, as the area’s biggest needs.

About two-thirds of all respondents said those were among the top fi ve amenities missing from Dickinson. Restaurants and eating places, clothing and department stores, and recreation also ranked in the top fi ve.

The results of the survey show that people may feel the city was a better place if they were provided more amenities and options for retail and dining, said Cooper Whitman, the executive director of the Dickinson Chamber of Commerce.

“You have such a large majority of people saying they don’t like all the changes,” he said. “Yet you have a huge percentage of people who say we need more of all this stuff.”

Seventy-five percent of people ages 50 and up said there was a need for more supermarkets. About 49 percent of survey respondents were 50 or older.

Only about 50 percent of people in age groups 34 and younger said the city needed more supermarkets, but more than 70 percent want more big-box stores and 66 percent checked the restaurants option.

Dickinson City Administrator Shawn Kessel said those numbers surprise him because he thought most people knew that two new supermarkets are scheduled to be built in Dickinson — one of which is under construction in the West Ridge subdivision — but said he understands that people are frustrated by the high price of groceries.

“Maybe that’s not as well publicized as I thought,” he said. “For a community of our size, we’ll have fi ve legitimate grocery stores on the completion of those two, plus you have Menards, who offers a fairly robust share of groceries. I think if you took that poll next year, that would change.”

Bars and nightclubs ranked last of the 10 options given on that question, with barely 3 percent of respondents choosing it. More people wrote in the responses “police” or “law enforcement.”

Dickinson Police Chief Dustin Dassinger said he is encouraged by those comments, as his department works on its budget request for the next fi scal year. He said the police are requesting funding for more offi cers and staff.

“It’s nice to hear that the general public, they also believe we need more staff,” Dassinger said.
Ranking concerns

One result of the survey that Dassinger said isn’t surprising is that drug and alcohol abuse ranks third behind cost of living and affordable housing on the list of reader concerns.

Alcohol abuse has long been an issue for the area, but the sale of illegal drugs has grown along with Dickinson’s economy and population, the police chief added.

“A lot of crimes we deal with seem to be related to illegal drug usage,” Dassinger said.

Kessel said he thinks some of the survey results — especially the way respondents felt about the city being a better or worse place — is tied to crime and the perception of drug use by residents, both longtime and newcomers.

“The perception of crime certainly has affected people and the way they view Dickinson,” Kessel said.

Overall, readers feel that the cost of living and housing in Dickinson are the greatest concerns.

Kessel said both are frustrating for everyone, even at a government level.

“It’s one of the hardest things to deal with too, because the answers are so broad-based,” he said. “It’s very frustrating from our standpoint. What we hear all the time, affordable housing, the reasons for it all trace back to land prices and the ability for people to acquire land at a price that’s reasonable so that they can then develop that land for a reasonable price.”
Thousands of words

More than 500 people left comments in either one or both of two comment boxes made available in the survey, though the vast majority of readers remained anonymous.

A word cloud generator showed that respondents often used the words “people,” “living,” “oil,” “traffi c,” and “crime,” as well as the word “good.” Readers ages 50 and over were more inclined to leave comments than younger age groups, with more than one-third doing so.

Many of the comments painted a picture of a community frustrated by issues brought on by growth — some of whom said they wished the city would go back to the way it was before the oil boom. Others said they no longer felt safe going to the store or even in their own homes and complained of noise disruptions in their neighborhood and along crowded streets. Some expressed grief over the environmental effects oil development has had on southwest North Dakota.

Johnson implored those who commented negatively on the survey to stand up make their voices and frustrations heard. He said the reader comments were interesting because he didn’t “sense that there’s a huge amount of frustration.”

“People are pretty understanding of what’s going on here,” Johnson said. “They know that the Bakken development creates a pretty extraordinary environment.”

Whitman, who has lived in Dickinson for less than two years, said he chose to move here primarily because of the area’s quality of life. However, he added that change isn’t always a bad thing for an area — particularly Dickinson, where there seems to be no end in sight to the growth and changes.

“The healthiest attitude to have is that understanding that change is going to come, we might as well embrace it and shape it to how we want it to look,” Whitman said. “If we fight the change, it’s going to happen anyway, and we’re not going to like the way it happens.”

ACCOMPANYING COLUMN: Patience will pay off for Dickinson

If there’s one thing Dickinson needs, it’s a little more patience. Patience to get around town. Patience at the supermarket. Patience to use our sprinklers until the city says its water supply has caught up.

The problem is, this is a society where patience doesn’t come to mind much. Our society is too fast-paced, our lives are too busy and when things move a little slow, people demand they move faster or as fast as they think it should — even when that pace is impossible or even unsafe.

In The Press’ reader survey, the wondering why it’s taking so long for our city to implement the changes necessary to catch up. In some cases, it seems like all people really need to be happy is to be able to eat at Buffalo Wild Wings tonight and make it across town a little faster than traffic is allowing them. They want more supermarkets (one is under construction now) and a new movie theater (that’s also coming), but would rather move away than wait for either.

A lack of patience was on display this weekend when city officials told Dickinson residents to conserve water by halting their use of outdoor sprinklers and holding off on washing their cars for a couple days to allow city water tanks to replenish after a historic day for water usage.

It was a pretty simple request. Multiple people blasted the decision on social media. “I pay to use it so I’m going to use it,” one man wrote on our Facebook page. On Saturday, just down the street from my house, a family was in their backyard using an inflatable pool and an inflatable water slide.

The city is on track to catch up with the population boom. But putting in new water lines and building new water towers takes time, as does constructing new supermarkets and restaurants. Unfortunately, it is true that Dickinson is the last place new businesses are building.

Our population influx isn’t as apparent as Williston or Watford City — which says something good about Dickinson. It says the city is keeping up. Yes, there are issues and problems that need to be addressed, but that is happening.