Legislative Report – July 2020

Legislative Report – Senator Larry Robinson

Water, Water, and More Water-

Weather wise, we have been in an interesting pattern for the past few years. Either we have too much or too little water. Our area has been inundated with water this year. Water issues have plagued Barnes County and many areas in eastern North Dakota. This comes at a time when western North Dakota has been dry. The recent rains in the west in many cases have been too little and too late to save the crops in that region. Our county Commissioners and Water Resource District personnel have had their hands full dealing with water issues. The past few years there have seen challenges with Hobart Lake, Sanborn Lake, Meadow Lake and Ten Mile Lake among others. The challenges are real and they are causing serious issues for our farmers and small towns. In many cases, farmers have only been able to plant a small portion of their cropland due to high water and roads that are not passable. There are a number of instances where it was impossible to get the 2019 crop off so the 2020 crop could be planted. We have situations in the county where folks have to drive through roads covered with water to get to their farmsteads. Farmers have also  invested significant dollars in drainage ditches and other efforts to move the water off their cropland and roadways. Needless to say, the situation is dire. These roads are often the lifeline for EMT vehicles in the time of an emergency. Farmers need these roads to move their commodities. And yes, these roads are used for our school buses as well.

During the 2019 session the legislature passed the Prairie Dog bill in an effort to direct funds toward our roads and bridges throughout the state. The dollars in the Prairie Dog bill (in excess of $220,000,000) would come from taxes on oil production in western North Dakota. I was a co sponsor on the bill. Unfortunately, with the collapse of oil prices, those dollars are certainly in question. According to a study by the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute in Fargo, there is a need totaling $1 billion dollars statewide to address county and township roads and bridges. The cost is only increasing each and every year.

The challenge to maintain our roads and bridges will not go away. It will clearly have to be a very high priority as we approach the 2021 legislative session. Yes, the cost to maintain the system of roads and bridges statewide is  high. I suggest that the greater cost is not making that investment. When we do to not invest  the necessary dollars in maintaining our roads, we often find that we end up with a much higher cost in the replacement of those roads. Our farmers and ranchers are dependent on these roads. The safety of our folks living in rural North Dakota is at stake. Our children ride in school buses that use these roadways. This is an investment that we must make.

I can assure you that serious discussions are underway in how we respond to this crisis. I will attempt to keep you informed on those discussions as we move toward the Fall and the next legislative session scheduled to commence in January 2021.

In the meantime, I can be reached at lrobinson@nd.gov. Stay safe and stay healthy!