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National Weather Service to lower radar over Watford City, but will still be too high for some storms

The National Weather Service has lowered its radar beam over Watford City by 3,000 feet, to an altitude of 10,000 feet.

While the change doesn’t get the radar below 10,000 feet — considered key to ensuring adequate early storm warnings — it does provide some additional radar coverage for the community, which was hit by an EF2 tornado in July 2018 without warning.

The tornado killed an infant, injured dozens of others, and displaced hundreds of residents from their homes.

The change involved new software installed on the NEXRAD system at Minot Air Force Base.

The beam cannot get any lower due to terrain and other obstacles interfering with the radar system, according to an NWS study. But it has already provided additional data that led to a storm warning in the northern part of the state on Thursday, Aug. 1.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., was among lawmakers pushing for improvements to the radar system covering the northwestern North Dakota region. A 2017 law Hoeven pushed for required NWS and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration to study gaps in its NEXRAD coverage and provide recommendations for addressing them.

“The change in NEXRAD coverage is important for protecting communities in western North Dakota from the threat of severe weather,” said Hoeven. “By scanning a lower altitude, the NWS will be better able to detect severe storms and tornados, giving residents more advanced warning and more opportunity to seek shelter. We appreciate NOAA and NWS staff for working with us to advance a study of the radar gaps around Watford City and making the best possible adjustments.”

McKenzie County Emergency Management Director Karolin Jappe said she was extremely grateful for efforts that Hoeven and other lawmakers made on behalf of Watford City to improve radar coverage.

However, she added, the radar will still be too high for adequate early storm warnings. Many storms begin well below 10,000 feet and will still be missed.

“If you look at the stats, that’s just not going to cut it. Not in this oilfield,” she said. “We have more risks. And we are in a unique area. It’s not completely flat land over here.”

Jappe said she is grateful that the Williston airport is getting a radar system, which will help fill the gap between 3,000 feet and 10,000 feet that is so key to storm warnings in this part of the state.

Preliminary estimates are that the beam will provide coverage below 10,000 feet for about a 100-mile radius, below 6,200 feet for about 75 miles, and below 3,200 feet for about 50 miles.

The public will be able to view the radar maps online, and information from the radar will be transmitted to the National Weather Service in Bismarck to enhance their decisions about storm warnings and forecasting for the region.

The system also complements year-round radar coverage in Bowman and a seasonal radar that operates in Stanley in the summer, as well as NEXRAD radar systems in Minot and Bismarck.

Williams County Emergency Management plans to incorporate data from the new radar system into its existing weather warning initiatives, including the Outdoor Warning Sirens and the ALERT Williams County notification app.

The radar is being installed at the airport by Williams County, with $1.5 million from the 1 percent Public Safety Sales Tax.

It is expected to be finished when the new airport opens, and operational soon thereafter.

Wardner: North Dakota is on 'short list' for a petrochemical plant

Sen. Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, was among North Dakota officials touring petrochemical facilities in Alberta last week with Gov. Doug Burgum. The trip was to gain insight into how North Dakota might successfully bring a petrochemical plant to the state. Wardner shared some of his insights after the trip with the Williston Herald.

Q: What was the motivation for the trip?

A: Looking for a petrochemical company to come here is all about the flaring. We need to get that cut down to at least less than 90 percent across the state. If we don’t it’s going to curtail development. We are just not going to be able to increase our oil production unless we take care of this gas.

The other thing about the gas is, when we do process it, they can get rid of the NGLs. That’s propane, pentane and butane. What they have been sending down Northern Border is methane. But because they cannot get rid of the ethane, it goes with it. When you mix ethane with the methane, they call it hot gas, so it is a problem. And the pipeline is filling up. So we need to find a use for the ethane. That will take pressure off the pipelines, and it will be a value-added. And what do we do with ethane? It’s used to make plastics, fertilizer and things of that nature.

Q: Where all did you go on the tour?

A: First of all, we went through the Shell Petrochemical Company. They are not using gas for their feedstock. They are using oil from the oil sands, the bitumen. It is like a refinery that they use to break the carbon chains down into these gases. And then taking the gasses, methane, ethane, propane, butane and making products out of them.

Shell has a place where they store the gases, and they happen to have reservoirs where they keep just propane, just butane, and just ethane. So when the plant needs one of those, they have it right there.

It was very impressive. And what they were doing, they were glad to share some of the things they were doing.

Then we went and saw what ATCO is doing.

ATCO is a company that helps a petrochemical company take care of some of its services. A petrochemical company needs a lot of electricity. This company will put a gas generation plant right alongside the petrochemical company. They will provide electricity to the plant and will be using some of the gas.

You have to have a reservoir of gas, so that when you have too much you can put the ethane below ground and use it when you don’t have enough.

They also are the company that stores the gas.

Q: The gas gets stored underground. Do we have appropriate salt storage facilities in the Bakken?

A: It just so happens that in the Williston area there are salt formations. And that is what they need to store the gasses, whether it be ethane, butane or propane, it doesn’t matter. What they do is form a cavern in these salt formations and store it later. So we are really excited that we have all the things we need up in Williston.

We also have the roads. We have Highway 2 and 85. We have the railroad. We have the water, and we have these salt formations.

With that being said, the supporting company is excited about coming, but here is the kicker. We have to convince a company that does petrochemicals to come. And that is where we are right now.

Q: How competitive is the market out there, when it comes to getting a petrochemical plant?

A: It is very competitive. When you take Marcellus Shale and the Utica in Iowa and West Virginia, that is all they have is gas. And that is critical. So there would be an area that is bidding. Texas is another place.

So we have competition.

But we are on a short list for one of the petrochemical companies. When I say short, we were added to it. There are four or five different spots and North Dakota was added when we figured out that we had all the things needed for a petrochemical plant.

There have been some discussions going on behind the scenes, talking about the needs in North Dakota. ATCO’s electric generation would produce more than enough electricity for the petrochemical company. They have already inventoried who is going to need more electricity in North Dakota. And they would be able to provide some of that for the oil industry. It needs power out to the well sites and stuff like that.

Q: Will you need more incentives to attract a petrochemical plant?

A: Right now, we are inventorying what we have. We do have some things already in place. We don’t know if we will have to make any changes in what we have. We are already a business friendly state, and our income tax is way down. We don’t have a high corporate tax.

We have cheap gas — just like everyone else. We have cheap gas, so it would be a place to use the gas and put some value on it. But the biggest thing we need to get taken care of is the flaring.

Petrochemical includes not just plastics, but fertilizer as well?

The fertilizer one, this is an agriculture state. We have Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and they all use fertilizer.

It would be a big boon and a benefit to the agriculture community. So this isn’t just about energy.

As far as the plastics, with the rail line being right here, there’s some place close by. We’d be able to transport it no problem to where they can use the plastic beads.

Q: What would it mean to the future of the state to have a petrochemical industry?

A: For the state of North Dakota, first, it’s value-added. Second it diversifies our workforce.

We are going to have to provide all the services needed for the workforce to come in. And the workforce that works in the petrochemical industry, these are good paying jobs. Very good-paying jobs. So thinks like education for the children of the people who work there. And public safety, good roads, good water, good services. All of these things are going to be a part of it. I think we are well on our way. We are sitting pretty good in most of those areas. But those are things we have to consider, because we have to provide a quality of life that will attract people to come and work in that type of industry.

We have what we need in North Dakota to make this happen here. No question about it. And, for the future of the state, we need to do this.

Judge orders man accused of rape held on $100,000 bond

A 24-year-old man serving three years in prison was ordered held on $100,000 bond Tuesday, Aug. 13, after he was accused of raping a woman last year.

Marcus Azure was charged in May with one class AA felony count of gross sexual imposition. Azure, who was sentenced in October to three years in prison for violating his probation on charges of theft and burglary, had a bond hearing Tuesday.

Police started investigating when a woman went to the emergency room in February 2018 and said she’d been sexually assaulted.

The woman told officers that she’d been in her home and that Azure was one of several people there, according to an affidavit of probable cause filed in Northwest District Court. The woman said she woke up in the middle of the night to find Azure undressing her.

She said Azure had his hand on her throat, court records indicate.

The woman told Azure she didn’t want to have sex, but he continued, charging documents state.

“Mr. Azure stated, ‘I always get what I want. When I’m done with you, your boyfriend can finish you off,’” investigators wrote in the probable cause affidavit.

The woman told police that Azure had his hand on her throat tightly enough so she couldn’t talk, but that he wasn’t cutting off her airflow.

When she tried to push him off, however, he would tighten his grip and strangle her, court documents state.

A search warrant served in October confirmed the presence of Azure’s DNA on the woman, investigators wrote in charging documents.

Azure is scheduled to have a preliminary hearing in the case on Sept. 11.

Mason Przybilla

Judge OK's public defender switch for 18-year-old woman accused of killing her infant son

A woman charged last month with murdering her 1-month-old son at a Williston hotel in April will be getting a new public defender.

Hannah Sage McMillin, 18, sent a letter in late July asking for a new attorney. She wrote to Northwest District Judge Benjamen Johnson that Donald Sauviac, who had been appointed to represent her, wasn’t giving her evidence when she’d asked and was more interested in publicity than representing her.

McMillin was originally charged in late April with a class A felony count of child abuse after the death of her young son in a hotel room. Her husband, 27-year-old Tank McMillin was arrested on the same charge.

But in July, prosecutors charged Hannah McMillin with a class AA felony count of murder. The upgraded charge came after an autopsy report was issued by the state Medical Examiner. The cause of death was suffocation, investigators wrote in charging documents.

The infant’s body was also bruised in several places, including the back, sides, feet, abdomen and buttocks, according to court records.

At a hearing Tuesday morning, McMillin reiterated her complaints. When Johnson asked if she still wanted a new public defender, she said she did.

“Absolutely, sir,” she said.

Sauviac said he didn’t oppose assigning a new attorney for McMillin. He said he had done everything he could to work with her, but that she was listening to other inmates in the jail rather than to his advice.

“Where this notion of me wanting press and publicity (comes from), nothing could be further from the truth,” Sauviac said.

Williams County State’s Attorney Marlyce Wilder asked Johnson to talk with McMillin about her decision.

“I think Ms. McMillin needs to understand she doesn’t get to pick her public defender,” Wilder said.

Johnson agreed to release Sauviac as public defender and have the state Public Defender’s Office in Valley City assign a new attorney. He also cautioned McMillin about listening to the wrong people about her defense.

Public defenders want to represent people who need help, and they have experience with the law and in the courtroom.

“The people in the jail don’t have those things,” Johnson told her.

He also warned her that he might not allow another switch.

“You have to understand you have to work with your attorney,” Johnson said.

McMillin’s trial date, which had been sent for September, will be rescheduled after a new attorney is assigned.

Motorcyclist hurt in Monday crash near Williston

A 29-year-old New Jersey man was seriously hurt when his motorcycle crashed into a pickup truck on Monday, Aug. 12.

Dustin Cerruti was heading north on 134th Avenue NW around 5:45 p.m. Monday when he turned right onto 53rd Lane NW, according to the North Dakota Highway Patrol. As he made the turn, he crashed into a 2014 Ram 2500 pickup driven by Thomas Leimback, 44, of Sheridan, Wyoming.

Cerruti, who was wearing a helmet, was thrown from his motorcycle and sustained serious but non life-threatening injuries, police said.

Leimback told officers that he believed Cerruti was driving fast and that he didn’t see the motorcycle until seconds before the crash.

Leimback, who was wearing a seatbelt, was not inured in the crash.