Posted 1/05/16 (Tue)
By Cecile Krimm
The year 2015 saw the sustain of an oil field slowdown, playing out in lower rents and more housing vacancies, even as local governments either celebrated or cursed the amount of state surge funds for oil field impacts.
Planning for a couple of major building projects began and funding for a long sought daycare center finally came together in Crosby.
Extreme weather events were frequent, a major local business changed hands and a gift from an estate gave a boost to a number of community organizations.
The Journal’s annual year in review follows:
1. Daycare and splashpad
Board members of the non-profit Crosby Kids Daycare were finally successful in September in winning enough support to move forward with a major building project.
Following a couple of years of stop and go progress, the Divide County Economic Development Council in May got involved. Interest centered around building at West Park. By June, those plans were stymied by concerns about drainage. In July, the donation of the former Crosby Lanes, by current owner New Century Ag, succeeded in giving the project a good location.
In August, city council members expressed a need for supporters to find about $1 million in order to move the project forward. Following a well-attended meeting in September in which supporters laid out a detailed building plan and cost analysis, the council pledged $400,000 in city sales tax money toward the $1.3 million price tag.
A few months earlier the city agreed to spend $365,000 on a new splash pad feature at the swimming pool, following a pitch from the park board.
2. Oil slowdown
Low oil prices, which began impacting exploration in 2014, fell further as 2015 progressed, causing the statewide rig count to fall into the 60-rig range.
In Divide County as few as two rigs, but not more than four, operated at any time all year.
The slowdown could also be seen on Main Street, as well as in restaurants and motels. Area schools, however, did not see a significant enrollment decline.
Most noticeable was a change in housing availability and price -- with apartment vacancies driving a decrease in rental rates to a level as much as 60 percent less than during the height of the boom.
3. Building planning
The oil field slowdown may have played a role in derailing one major public building project in Divide County, but a second is still moving forward.
Both the county and school district began in 2015 to plan in earnest for major spending on bricks and mortar. The school district proposed a $20 million expansion and renovation involving the floor plans at both the elementary and high school. County commissioners began work on a plan for a $10 million courthouse addition.
While voters nixed a bond issue to pay for the school improvements, the county plans to fund work with state financing and will break ground in 2016.
The school district moved, late in the year, to pare down its project by half and is preparing as the new year begins to put a smaller bond issue before voters on Feb. 9.
4. Extreme weather
Summer and fall brought several episodes of extreme weather, following a mostly average winter season.
Crosby experienced its second biggest one day rain total ever recorded, with 4.59 inches falling in a 24-hour period starting Saturday, Sept. 5 and ending the following morning. It was just .15 shy of the all time one-day record set on July 11, 1974.
On the fourth of July, hail packed a punch even bigger than fireworks, with balls as big as 2.5 inches documented and reports as high as 3 inches in diameter. The hail pocked roofs, broke windows and flattened gardens, especially in the northwest quadrant of Crosby.
Crosby recorded two big wind events in 2015, with the second of the two, in October, bringing gusts up to 71 miles per hour and keeping park staff busy with the clean up of downed trees.
5. Pipelines ease tax burden
Divide County Commissioners were pleasantly surprised by valuations for infrastructure items, such as new pipelines, when they were provided by the state late in the year’s budget process.
Values for what are referred to as “centrally assessed properties” nearly doubled the value of such properties to a total of $263 million. One pipeline alone, the USG Midstream Bakken 1, increased in value 10-fold in one year.
The change allowed for the mill rate to go down and made unnecessary a previously projected 17 percent tax increase.
Even better than the sudden surprise is that the value of these properties will mean a greater share of the county’s overall tax burden will be borne by entities other than residential, ag and commercial property owners for years to come.
6. Brine spills
Divide County and neighboring areas experienced several negative impacts from oil development in the form of brine spills.
The biggest occurred not far into Williams County, with a huge release of brine into Blacktail Creek, southeast of Zahl. The Summit Midstream saltwater disposal line is now believed to have leaked for up to three months before its detection.
In April, The Journal recapped 57 different saltwater spill incidents in Divide County, resulting in more than 137,000 gallons of brine being dumped.
In addition to three brine spills, one in January and two in February, one of the biggest in the area occurred in August, between Ambrose and Crosby, when 4,260 barrels of brine leaked from the Christensen SWD saltwater gathering system -- another incident for which fines are now in review.
7. Surge money
Divide County officials were sorely disappointed in their share of a gargantuan state spending bill known as the “surge fund” to help localities deal with a growing inventory of oil impacts.
While some legislators had initially pushed for the county to receive as much as $40 million, lack of attention to a regional transportation study was blamed for the county being doled out just $9.8 million.
At the same time, Crosby was awarded $8.3 million, with which the city council in August announced plans to undertake a major street paving and sewer main replacement project in 2016.
8. BDW signs off
Seven years of effort to establish a regional water source for Divide County came to its official conclusion in September, with the decision to sign a joint powers agreement with Williams Rural Water to take over service and maintenance of the line.
The line tied the towns of Fortuna, Crosby, Noonan and Columbus to a single line and water source -- with water coming from Ray to start, and long term, from the Western Area Water Supply Authority.
9. T & R sells to Gibsons
One of the most successful local companies to emerge as a result of the Bakken oil boom, T & R Transport of Crosby, in July announced the sale of the trucking firm to Gibson Energy of Texas.
Founders Ross “Chico” Eriksmoen and his wife, Tonia, built the business from a single semi in 2008, to as many as 185 trucks at the height of the boom.
The Eriksmoens continued to work during a transition that was expected to last at least until the end of 2015 and Chico also has started a separate trucking firm, Stony Creek Transport, mostly focusing on hauling for agricultural needs.
10. Olga Rait gift
The executor of the estate of lifelong Divide County resident Olga Rait had the pleasure in 2015 of overseeing the distribution of about $700,000 in gifts to various public, non-profit and charitable causes in the area.
In addition to more than $450,000 devoted to St. Luke’s Medical center and nursing home, sizable gifts were bestowed on the new community center, the public library and the Prairie Tumbleweeds gymnastics group, along with gifts to the county, her home church in Noonan and two cemeteries, among other recipients.