State weighs in on proposed land transfer
By JILL DENNING GACKLE
"Whiskey is for drinking, water for fighting."
Those were the words of an observer at a state committee hearing Oct. 16 where testimony focused on land around Lake Sakakawea and Lake Oahe in North Dakota.
In an escalating fight over what is called "excess land" around the two lakes on tribal reservations, ND lawmakers are considering a study that parallels a tug of war between Indian tribes and the federal government.
Earlier this year the state House passed a bill (HB1338) to study property adjacent to lands controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The bill stemmed from concerns about noxious weeds and grazing rights. The bill allowed for $50,000 to hire someone to study previous efforts in 2009 and 2011 to correct noxious weed concerns and to study the transfer of thousands of Oahe shoreline to state and tribal entities. The bill called for a task force of landowners, tribal officials, hunting and fishing organizations and state agencies like Parks and Rec, Game and Fish and the National Guard to discuss access and needs. The hearing Oct. 16 was to discuss the plans and to get public input.
State lawmakers on the committee showed resolve to move ahead.
Rep. Jim Schmidt of Huff, said, "If we don’t do this, who will?"
An attorney for the Sioux tribe thought otherwise. He cautioned the state to not leap into a study.