N.D. energy panel suggests $1B for roads, bridges

2014-08-14T11:52:00Z N.D. energy panel suggests $1B for roads, bridgesThe Associated Press The Associated Press
August 14, 2014 11:52 am  • 

BISMARCK, N.D. — A group representing North Dakota's various energy sectors is recommending the state spend almost $1 billion over the next two years on roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

The 16-member EmPower North Dakota Commission also urged lawmakers Thursday to pass legislation within the first month after the 2015 Legislation begins in January so projects in western North Dakota's oil-producing region can be started by spring, when the state's construction season typically starts.

The panel, led by state Commerce Commissioner Al Anderson, is comprised of representatives from a cross-section of the energy industry, including members representing coal, oil, refining, biofuels and electricity. The group was established by the Legislature in 2007 to set the state's energy policy.

Anderson told the Legislature's interim Energy Development and Transmission Committee that infrastructure needs and a shortage of workers are the biggest challenges facing North Dakota's energy sector. The state has more than 25,000 unfilled jobs and the lowest unemployment rate in the nation, at less than 3 percent.

"It's exciting to be in North Dakota," Anderson told lawmakers. "But it isn't without its challenges."

North Dakota state government runs on a two-year budget. EmPower panel member Ron Ness, who also is president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said told lawmakers they have made "substantial progress" funding needs for areas impacted by energy development by investing $2.5 billion in the region during the current budget cycle, or about double the amount in the previous biennium.

But Ness, speaking for the advisory board, said it hasn't been enough, especially when it comes to infrastructure.

The state still needs to invest $548 million in unpaved roads, $377 million in paved roads and $70 million in bridges over the next two years, a report by the advisory group said.

The meeting at the state Capitol Thursday was attended by about 50 people, many of whom were lobbyists representing energy interests. Lawmakers did not question the infrastructure funding proposal.

North Dakota's newfound oil riches have resulted in unprecedented demands for spending on roads, schools, public works, law enforcement and emergency medical services. The state's current two-year budget, including federal aid, is $14 billion - about $10 billion more than a decade ago.

The state's financial reserves are pegged at about $2 billion.

The panel, among other things also is suggesting reworking a formula used to distribute oil and gas production tax revenue. The fund currently sets aside 75 percent to the state and 25 percent to local governments.

Officials from oil-producing communities want a 60-40 split in favor of local governments in oil counties.

The EmPower panel is recommending that the tax revenue formula should be revamped but it did not make a specific recommendation on how revenue should be shared.

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