November 4, 2015

Local industries pushing EPA attendance

By Kate Johnson

Coyote Station, Roughrider Electric, Dakota Gasification, and Coteau Properties, as well as Hazen, Beulah, and Mercer County representatives, were all very vocal on attendance at the upcoming EPA meeting to be held at the Beulah Civic Center at 7 p.m. Nov. 12. With the EPA’s new carbon dioxide (CO2) reduction, rule there is potential mines will close and electric bills will skyrocket. The confusion most are having is how exactly is this plan supposed to help – especially in the Mercer County area and North Dakota as a whole. John Phillips, development director, quoted superintendent Dale Gilje that 51 percent of Beulah’s students are directly tied to the coal industry. Phillips, along with Brad Zimmerman of Coyote Station, believes that number is even higher if looked at as an indirect tie.
Hazen City Commission President Jerry Obenauer stressed coal’s importance to our communities.
“A third of our budget is coal severance and conversion,” says Obenauer. “How many people in Hazen live off coal?”
Focusing on the point that people may not realize how much of their life, living where they do, revolves around coal and related industries.
Zimmerman countered Obenauer’s comment by bringing up the further ripple this plan will have.
“Take the general populist of Bismarck or Mandan -- they have no idea how much their economy stems from this area,” Zimmerman said.
This discussion caused the room to erupt, with everyone beginning to talk over each other, all knowing the CO2 reduction plan needs to get tossed out the window.
“It’s a domino effect,” said Wes Gunsch, representing Mercer County. With “domino effect” meaning that, if this plan goes through, the pain may start in this area but it will continue to spread to all corners of North Dakota.
Obenauer pointed out his thoughts on the issue.
“I think it could be the toughest economic issue our county has faced since the depression,” he said.
All portfolios in attendance wrapped up with the importance of attending the Nov. 12 EPA rule meeting and everything they were doing in their power to rally some troops.
Recently the Beulah Chamber of Commerce has been chipping away at creating a Mercer County Marketing Plan, creating a good response for the industry representatives present.
“We have nothing that describes Mercer County, nothing you can give to a new hire,” says Phillips.
The idea is to put together a handout for potential hires in the area that would highlight Mercer County, focus on the quality of life, recreational opportunities, and places to live, etc.
“There isn’t 71 homes available in Mercer County” says Phillips, referring to the recent number of new hires at one plant alone.
These handouts would be made available to the industries to help incoming hirees have an easier transition.
Dakota Gasification’s, A.T. Funkhouser brought up the lack of daycare facilities in the area.
“There is a lot of our employees nowadays are actively and internally coming to us and saying ‘you guys need to do something and help us out’.” says Funkhouser, referring to the lack of daycare options for the families.
Beulah’s daycare facility is close to breaking ground, only being a few weeks away. Phillips stated they are working on contracts now, but are still getting caught up.


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