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This Oct. 21, 2011file photo shows workmen at an apartment building under construction in Williston, N.D. As the western North Dakota oil patch hub of Williston grows, so does the amount of money the city needs to subsidize housing for city employees. Williston plans to seek more state money for housing subsidies, which currently are funded with a mix of state funds and city sales tax revenue. AP Photo/James MacPherson, File)

More infrastructure spending sought for fast growth areas

BISMARCK, N.D. — A bill that would expedite more than $1.1 billion so that infrastructure projects can begin by this summer particularly in North Dakota’s booming oil patch should include $173 million more in emergency funding for law enforcement, oilfield inspectors and highways, state officials told lawmakers Wednesday.

The state Senate last month approved the special funding so that infrastructure projects can begin in time for the construction season. The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday reviewed the “surge funding” bill that would fast-track funding to cities, school districts and communities.

Nearly 200 people packed the Capitol’s biggest meeting room to testify on the legislation, including 50 who took a bus from the oil boom town of Williston.

The Legislature has been playing catch-up for at least the three previous sessions to cope with North Dakota’s exploding growth. Many have argued that funding for western North Dakota’s oil-producing counties in recent years hasn’t come close to meeting the needs for such things as road building and repair, utilities, housing and schools.

Officials from western North Dakota’s oil-producing region pleaded with lawmakers — for the second time this session — to expedite hundreds of millions of dollars in special funding so that infrastructure projects can begin by this summer.

Related: Surge funding bill raised to $1.14 billion

The legislation includes $300 million in fast-track-funding for the 10 biggest oil-producing counties; $140.8 million for non-oil-producing counties; $140 million for cities in oil-producing counties; and $236 million for other cities outside the oil patch.

The measure includes $300 million for state highway projects but state Department of Transportation Director Grant Levi that his agency needs an additional $150 million in fast-track funding to ensure key projects are bid in time to get a head start on the upcoming construction season.

“We need early resources in order to succeed,” Levi said.

The need for surge funding “is not just for roads and infrastructure,” said Pam Sharp, the state’s budget director.

Sharp offered an amendment to set aside $20 million from the state’s general fund for affordable housing incentives. The amendment also includes $1 million to quickly hire up to 10 state law enforcement officers to help battle the increase of drugs and sex trafficking, mainly in western North Dakota’s oil-producing region.

Sharp also requested $2 million in fast-track funding for the state Health Department so that up to 15 inspectors can be hired to monitor oilfield activities and investigate spills.

“I think it’s important to get this money out as soon as possible,” Sharp told the committee, which took no action on the measure or the requests for additional funding.

 

This article was written by James Macpherson from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.