Latest News

Commissioners look hard at county roads, coming up short

Posted 6/30/15 (Tue)

By John D. Taylor
Divide County’s commissioners are looking hard at the county’s roads again, and still coming up short for repairs from oil industry impacts, along with a couple of wet years.
While they have the promise of federal money to fix county roads damaged during last spring and summer’s rainfall, and previous years’ flooding, required matching funds will chew into the county’s road budget.
A delay in delivery of promised state funds isn’t helping, either.
Four options
Engineer Kent Indvik met with commissioners earlier this month to share four options on how the county might use their federal repair money.
The first option includes a $13 million plan to raise the centerline of Co. Road 11 near the junction of Co. Road 14, as much as 12.5 feet, to provide 3 feet of freeboard at the road’s shoulder. This would equalize the sloughs that threaten the roadway and prevent the road from eroding. It was deemed the best long-term solution by Indvik.
A second option also involves raising the road grade above the storage capacity of the drainage basin spanning the road. But since this involves a storage capacity of more than 9,300 acre-feet of water, Indvik  said it is “not feasible” because raising the grade would only give the roadway 10 months of flood  relief before the basin refills.
A third option would raise the center line of the roadway about 5 feet, giving the road an additional 2 feet of freeboard, and about four months of time before the drainage basin refilled. At $8.2 million,  this option was deemed a “temporary” solution by Indvik.
The final option offers 2 feet of freeboard for the shoulder of the widened road. Although the least expensive option, it was basically a band aid, another “temporary solution.”
Altogether, CR 11 project will cost the county about $1.39 million, according to Indvik, since the county is responsible for an 80 percent federal, 20 percent local split on this work, and the county has already spent more than $124,000 in emergency work to make the road passable. 
Commissioner Doug Graupe suggested the $8.2 million option would be within the county’s means, and Commissioners Gerald Brady and Tim Selle agreed, although Brady suggested postponing the work until 2017 to give the county more time to accumulate additional money for the effort.
Another problem
Another place the county fell short in funding for road work is connected to House Bill 1176, the state legislature’s effort to address Bowman and Divide counties, shorted during the surge bill’s doles.
HB 1176 was signed into law by Gov. Jack Dalrymple in late April. And Bowman and Divide Counties were to get $4 million each from it.
The commissioners were hoping to use some of this money to cover their costs on road work like CR 11 repairs, to free up other funds for other projects.
However, in mid-June they received a letter from the Energy Infrastructure and Impact Office’s Gerry Fisher, saying that the county’s $4 million is coming, but it won’t be here until March 2017.
Fisher, in his letter, notes how the impact office’s grant money comes from oil and gas gross production taxes, collected the month after oil production begins and deposited into the impact grant fund after that. 
Since this fund isn’t scheduled to start accumulating money until September, and the legislature authorized $140 million in energy impact grants for this biennium, the fund will only receive $5.5 to $7 million monthly, so appropriation of this money won’t take place until 2017.
“While the distribution of these funds might not be immediate, Divide County can anticipate that it will received $4 million as directed by the 2015 Legislature,” Fisher writes.
Revisiting UGPTI
A third example of concern regarding roads is how the county is making darned sure an unmet needs survey for the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute’s (UGPTI) is updated.
Earlier this year, District 2 Rep. Bob Skarphol blamed the county’s lack of follow-up on filling out UGPTI paperwork last year for the county getting shortchanged on surge funding.
While legislators were pitching the surge bill to the public, the county was promised first $40, then $35, then $25 million in surge funding.
However, the county received just $9.8 million in surge money, and Skarphol claimed county officials dropped the ball when it came to responding to UGPTI’s survey for this.
Graupe nixed Skarphol’s claims with documentation proving the county did provide UGPTI with the initial information it requested, however, Divide was among numerous counties – including counties receiving hefty surge checks – that didn’t do a whole lot of follow-up on UGPTI’s questionnaire.
For example, county records show of responses to UGPTI reveal how all of the county’s roads bear oil impacts, how graveling, blading and dust control budgets have skyrocketed and how a lengthy comment section details the impacts of the oil industry on county roads.
Included among these comments are:
nHow the county’s gravel crushing budget rose from $122,000 in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2014.
nHow oil production requires the disposal of two barrels of brine for each barrel of oil produced, resulting in 30 salt water disposal wells across the county
nHow repairing wet roads cost the county more than $3 million of its discretionary funds since 2011, some of this the result of oil production.
nHow a special waste landfill, four gas plants, a nearby transload station and numerous grain terminal elevators results in more truck traffic.
Last week the commissioner and county Roads Foreman Bryan Haugenoe met to update UGPTI’s  information.
According to the latest information, gravel for roads cost the county $6.50 per cubic yard, plus 50 cents per cubic yard in trucking fees, with the average trucking distance from county quarries being about 25 miles.
Gravel placement costs are now $22,800 per mile, with blading costs at $180 per mile, dust control at $5,600 per mile, and snow removal at $100 per mile.
Two blade operators are kept busy blading CRs 17, 16, 12, 14 and 11 due to high oilfield traffic-- roads that must be graveled annually.
Dust control – a $743,000 annual expense – must be applied twice now, and the county’s gravel roads went from being in relatively good shape in 2013 to fair shape today.
Paved roads aren’t in much better shape. Frequent overlays create narrow roadways and there are other problems.
Among the comments the commissioners note how county oil wells produce more than 3 million barrels of saltwater per month, along with the 1.25 to 1.375 million barrels of oil monthly. Most of the oil is hauled to Enbridge at Grenora or the rail transload facility east of Columbus, putting a significant amount of truck traffic on county roads.
Grain terminals add to this, with 100 car units loading in Westby and near Noonan, mostly with grain from Burke and Williams counties.