Oil trucks and other vehicles travel more than 37 million miles a years on McKenzie County roads, which also are exposed to sometimes harsh weather conditions. Maintaining a good road system and keeping up with the general growth of the booming county are the biggest challenges facing McKenzie County, according to Ronald Anderson, chairman of the McKenzie County Commission, our guest today on The Hegg Bakken Report!
Hegg Bakken Report: Today on the program we get in touch with a County Commissioner. A Chairman of the County Commissioners and arguably one of the busiest counties in the state and probably beyond McKenzie County, North Dakota, its Ronald Anderson. Ron, thanks for joining us on the program today.
Ron Anderson: Thank you Bill, you got it.
Hegg Bakken Report: Okay, we’ll be okay; we’ll be just fine. Anyway, you were appointed to the term, to the County Commission in McKenzie County back in 1999. You were re-elected three or was it four times now?
Ron Anderson: Three times.
Hegg Bakken Report: So the people of McKenzie County kind of like what you’re doing?
Ron Anderson: Well, that might be a stretch, but so far they’ve agreed with it.
Hegg Bakken Report: Yes, you’ve got to be pretty busy. You also got a farm up there in the Keene area too right.
Ron Anderson: Well, yeah, we had a farm and a ranch, but I’m retired now, sold the cows and there is life after cows, so. In fact I think if I was still actively farming and ranching, I would have to give this job up.
Hegg Bakken Report: I can only imagine, yes, because when you started in 1999 to what it is in 2013 in your County sir, you’ve had to have seen some pretty tremendous changes over that time period. What is the biggest challenge as Chairman of the County Commission in McKenzie County that you face each day?
Ron Anderson: Well, you know from a commission standpoint obviously it’s the roads and just the general growth. Its seems like we’re interviewing a new employee about every week, whether it be law enforcement, corps, whatever, because everything ratcheted up so much we went from – we were a county of probably about 5,300 back when I came on the commission and I don’t know, and the estimates now are 12,000.
Hegg Bakken Report: And climbing all the time too, new people coming.
Ron Anderson: And climbing all the time, yes.
Hegg Bakken Report: There’s new developments happening all over McKenzie County. What have you heard about some of the businesses that are coming in lately here?
Ron Anderson: Well, you know by businesses you mean like retail business or…
Hegg Bakken Report: Yes, just about any kind. I know there’s a lot of oil companies coming in, but what do you got for retail headed your way?
Ron Anderson: Well our retail in Watford City, we just got a, finally got a new Cash Wise, which is nice. It’s a huge grocery store and we were running out of groceries before, so it’s nice to have the produce and stuff then.
Things like Alco, a few fast food restaurants and stuff which we’re very short of, that is starting to materialize. I think that we’re going to be in a much better situation here in another year even.
Hegg Bakken Report: What has to transpire between now and August 2014 to be in that better shape that you speak of.
Ron Anderson: Well, one of the big things of course is with housing. I think we’re going to be – have a lot more apartments ready. The builders, they are finally coming to the realization that they can’t sell a home much over $200,000, because the people just don’t have the bucks to buy it and so the builders are kind of coming around to that price and we’ve done some innovations on putting up low income housing for like city employees, county employees, the school district and in a year or so – in fact it’s starting to come together right now. We’re just in the process of doing a 200-kid daycare center, which we’ve been drastically short of and that’s going to help us out in the future. Hopefully that will be ready by later this fall.
Hegg Bakken Report: I see. Now, school begins I’m sure this week, if not, very soon in Watford City. Yes, there is talk about the school being too small this year. What are you hearing from the school boards as far as the needs that they have?
Ron Anderson: Well, we’ve added on to the – we’ll we’ve traded a new middle school, added on a little bit to the elementary school; I don’t know. Right now we’re doing some portables. The school population is a really tough one to deal with, because you can be up 51 a day and a week from now we could lose 50. So it’s a really hard thing to plan for, but I think our school board is doing an excellent job of getting there.
Hegg Bakken Report: Recently we talked to Governor Dalrymple and I asked him, what can oil impacted counties expect from the state of North Dakota, and he said that counties such as McKenzie can expect a lot of help as far as funding for projects for your roads, your infrastructure and things. Is that something that your hearing as well from the state of North Dakota?
Ron Anderson: Well, actually yes and we’re pursuing several different things. The amount of money that we get back from oil production tax really is just – we’re kind of maintaining, and we could do very well with that money if we weren’t five years behind. And so yes, we’re working very closely with the governor, just trying to get that done.
We worked hard in the last legislated session. I guess we got hard in what we wanted. We didn’t get everything, but that’s the way the legislature works. I guess we just got to be ready to go back in next time and you know tell these folks and show them that, hey, if we get caught up, then we’ll be okay. But we’re five years behind right now.
Hegg Bakken Report: Let’s go back to the roads in McKenzie County. I know we suffered – well, the roads suffered I should say a very wet spring and cold temperatures and things. Part of your roads were closed during that time period. What’s the shape of them today? I’m assuming that you’ve got people working on them on an ongoing basis.
Ron Anderson: Oh! Absolutely. Yes, we had a rainy vent, which was a general rain for about a week and a half. A really hard rain doesn’t hurt us that much, but a general rain just kills us. So we did have to come up with a policy where we closed and we didn’t close them very long, but we sent a message I think to some of these people to please, please their own and if we have a rainy bed like that, please stop your trucks. You know if it’s a nice summer day coming up, they can be going again in 12, 14 hours, but…
Then we’ve had some meetings now with the petroleum council with all the Euro companies and stuff and we’re going to work it out. Most of them are great people and they understand the problems we’re looking at. It’s just that we got to do some communications. That is a big part of my job.
Hegg Bakken Report: Right, right. I would have to assume they almost have to be empathetic towards the situation facing the roads and the infrastructure in McKenzie County. So you’ve got some good folks to work with. Big thinkers, right, they are all big thinkers. They can think outside the box.
Ron Anderson: Well, yes.
Hegg Bakken Report: Now I noticed you said most of them were good to work with.
Ron Anderson: I said I got to qualify. I said most of them. You know, it’s kind of like the general population, 10% that I have to get through to.
Hegg Bakken Report: Let’s talk about Watford City for a moment. Boy, I tell you, that town has grown tremendously. I went through there a couple of months ago and hadn’t gone – prior to that it was about three months and it was just a whole different situation. Talking about the water and sewer, does the county commission have a lot to do with working with the folks putting in the water and sewer in the needs that they have.
Ron Anderson: No, actually we don’t. That’s kind of their – that’s all their thing and they are having significant problems getting this water and sewer thing up to speed. It’s not like the oil home in the 80’s. They are depending upon the developers. They are also in the main trunks and then the developers are sort of doing everything else, which they don’t care for, but that’s just the way it’s going to be.
Our little city is coming up a little short to the oil impact fund of getting enough money to get those streets and sewer thing ready. Yes, and that’s the thing we got to work on and we got to communicate a little better and I know the Governor is very concerned, because Watford is not one of the so called hub cities and really Watford City’s private roads is probably greater than any other bigger ones.
Hegg Bakken Report: Yes. So, okay you’ve got – how many districts are there in McKenzie County?
Ron Anderson: We don’t go by districts. It’s elected at large.
Hegg Bakken Report: Yes, I know you’ve got – the commission, the Board of County Commissioners is represented by different areas of the county. Roger Chinn, he’s still a Commissioner, right?
Ron Anderson: Yes, he is and it just so happens that we’re kind of split up according to what the old commissioner districts were, expect that that’s really not a deciding factor. I mean they could all five come from one part of the colony and that’s the way the board has decided, but normally they don’t.
Hegg Bakken Report: Yes, Roger I believe he is on the south end of McKenzie County. You’re way up north in the Keene area and okay.
Ron Anderson: That’s correct. And we got Richard over in Fairview area, Fairview of Sidney and Rick Lawler and Douglas Nordby are right around Watford City, so it’s spread out.
Hegg Bakken Report: How often do you guys get together and meet?
Ron Anderson: You know its suppose to be once a month, but we’re probably, we’re scheduled for two a month and you can probably spring in two, three, four meetings, more than we have to advertise for a specific subject in between. As Chairman I am spending a lot of days and that’s normally just phone time, but I would estimate that I’m putting in 15 days a month.
Hegg Bakken Report: Wow, okay. One more question before we turn you loose Ron. What is one thing that McKenzie County needs? What comes to your mind when I say, what is the one big thing that you need to keep going at the rate of growth that you’re going?
Ron Anderson: Well, we need to get as I mentioned before on our road infrastructure, we need to get caught up. We also have another road we would like to put in; it’s called a cut across road in Northern McKenzie County. That’s one spot we don’t have pavement in and it’s a major, major haul road and so we’re kind of working with the state right now and with the oil companies and hopefully we can come up, I would say with a solution to that, so we could get that done at least in – get it done in two years.
And if we can go through another session with the money we got, I think we can maintain, we’ll get her done. Travel roads you know are in every year thing. I mean there’s just no way to get around it.
Hegg Bakken Report: Right, and that’s oil impact or not. I mean Holland Bales you know tares up a road, that’s an ongoing thing.
Ron Anderson: But we don’t get much of that. It’s really all oil impact. Figuring it out for the amount of loads to get a well through fracing and we’re running 70 rigs right now, that equates to about 37 million miles a year traveled in McKenzie County on these roads, which is huge.
Hegg Bakken Report: Amazing. Yes, that’s a lot of traffic, a lot of big trucks moving through. Well, you know I’ve never met you Ron and we just kind have been playing phone tag here until we sat down to do this interview today and I sense a lot of optimism from you. You sound like your glass is half full kind of guy and I think the residence of McKenzie County can rest assured that they’ve got the right man for the right job at the right time.
Ron Anderson: Thank you. My wife would argue that with you when I was still farming and ranching.
Hegg Bakken Report: So are those people that weren’t included in some of the oil companies you’re going to work with. The other side probably might see something different.
Ron Anderson: Yes, alright.
Hegg Bakken Report: Alright Ronald, listen, best of luck to you and like I said, I hope to shake hands with you someday soon.
Ron Anderson: Sounds good Bill, thank you.