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Williams County Commissioners approve preliminary budget of $152 million

Williams County Commissioners approved a preliminary budget on Tuesday that includes $45.7 million in projected general fund expenditures, as compared to a $26.6 million appropriation for the same category in 2019.

The bulk of that increase is an $18 million transfer for county road projects in 2020.

Williams County Highway Superintendent Dennis Nelson outlined $30.2 million in proposed highway projects during preliminary budget hearings in July.

The projects he proposed then for 2020 include:

• Chip-seal for the eastern half of Williams County

• Culvert replacement on County Road 10 and County Road 1.

• Slope repair to County Road 42 from 72nd North to State Highway 50.

• Grading and paving for County Road 8 from the 13-Mile corner west to County Road 5 and on County Road 10 from County Road 21 west to County Road 19.

There’s also about $1.5 million for spot repairs and for county-wide culvert work and grinding, split equally among the three categories.

Williams County Chairman David Montgomery said one of the projects involves federal aid.

“When we have an opportunity to get some more federal aid for the project, we needed to find ways to do that project,” he said. “Those federal projects don’t come around every year like that.”

In addition to the five to six big road projects Nelson has planned, Williams county will also look at adding an Emergency Operations Center at the county’s new highway building. That would include an area for emergency services to store equipment.

There will also be a small remodeling project at the Sheriff’s Department for the old weed control building southeast of the courthouse.

Montgomery said the county has taken pains to grow with as little debt accumulation as possible. It has recently completed a new law enforcement center and jail, as well as a new administration building. While there were some loans from the Bank of North Dakota for those facilities, they have all been paid off.

In addition, the social services renovation, taking place now, has money already set aside to pay for it.

“In the last six, eight years, we have done well over $100 million in building projects alone,” Montgomery said. “And they are all paid for.”

The county is also remodeling the third floor of its county administration facility, to make room for the Department of Motor Vehicles, and it’s working with Williston on a joint communications center.

“It’s always been the commission’s intent to hold the increase to taxpayers to as little as possible,” Montgomery said. “And I firmly believe we have done that.”

Water-oil world shows increasing trend toward automation

A peek inside the world of oil today shows an industry moving more and more toward automation, both for safety and better economics.

These trends were mirrored in the water world as well during a water and oil tour Wednesday afternoon in Williston that included Nabors Drilling, ONEOK, Western Area Water Supply, and the Confluence. ONEOK said any material, other than their participation in the tour, could not be published.

The tour began in Williston at the headquarters for Western Area Water Supply, which was cosponsor of the tour with the North Dakota Water Education Foundation.

WAWS is also getting in on the automation game.

“Everything we have can be controlled from an iPad,” said Curtis Wilson, executive director of Western Area Water Supply Authority.

WAWS, Wilson said, is a unique partnership in the state. It was set up as a way to serve an oil and gas industry that suddenly needed millions more gallons of water than the region could supply, while at the same time bringing safe clean water to a dramatically increased population in the northwest region, many of whom also came here to work in the oil and gas sector.

The idea was to use the sale of industrial water to build out the system that the region as a whole needed.

Population in that region had more than doubled at the time, Wilson said, and supplying all of them with clean water was the overall mission of WAWS.

“We want to do it in a way that doesn’t overwhelm the rural customer with debt,” he said.

That mission has brought water systems in Watford City, McKenzie County, Williams County and Williston together to create a system that today can deliver up to 21 million gallons of fresh, safe drinking water per day.

The water begins at the Williston Water Treatment Plant, situated along U.S. 85, which has an intake on the Missouri River.

The water goes through a series of processes that includes activated charcoal to remove organics and chlorine to kill bacterial agents. Minerals are also taken out of the water, and the pH is lowered from 11 to about 9.

Once the water has been purified, it is pumped out with 800 hp engines in 36-inch pipe, with an exit pressure of 160 psi.

“It has a long way to go,” explained Jeff Bryson, Williston Water Plant Supervisor.

The plant itself just needs half a megawatt to run, but it has two backup engines of 2 megawatts each. In the event of a power outage, the plant can be back up and running within 10 seconds, Bryson said.

By having two engines, the plant has some redundancies that ensure it will be able to keep operating, no matter what.

Redundancies are also an important concept out in the oilfield. At a rig, if there is a total power outage — a rig blackout — there is a machine on site that is capable of closing off pipe, ensuring that gas does not come to the surface when it shouldn’t.

Jim Shackleton, with Nabors, helps train new rig hands in a nine-day school that pairs hands-on practice with trips to actual rigs, where practice can be put into action.

The school itself also includes an actual working rig with a 550-foot cased hole.

During peak times, the school has trained 600 to 700 people annually.

Rig hands generally don’t pull pipe by hand any more, Shackleton said. There are automatic pipe spinners for that, which are run from an air-conditioned or heated control room, depending on the time of year.

“It’s a lot of hands off now,” Shackleton said. “Safety is No. 1.”

Taking men out of the hazardous parts of the job improves incident rates — something oilfield companies want to know about before they will sign a contract with a service company.

Appropriate automation helps to do just that, Shackleton said.

Cameras placed on rigs, for instance, can be used to monitor what is going on from a corporate office. If there is an issue, control of the rig can actually be transferred to a more experienced operator in that control room.

Shackleton said he’s not worried that automation will get rid of all the jobs in the Bakken. While Saudi Arabia has rigs on shallow wells that are near totally automatic, that was an expensive solution that cost many, many millions of dollars, he said, and indicated that really only works there because of the terrain.

“It won’t be like that here,” he said.

Instead, he suggested automation here would be judiciously used to improve safety, with turnkey types of solutions to processes that have proved dangerous in the past.

Another benefit to automation, Shackelton said, is streamlining processes, making them faster, and thus ever cheaper.

“That’s why you won’t see so many rigs here,” Shackleton said. “We’re drilling as much as we did then, but we’re drilling so fast now.”

Entertainment Inc! to presents Shakespeare in the Park, featuring Macbeth

Shakespeare famously said “All the world’s a stage,” and Entertainment Inc! is taking that message to heart by stepping away from the stage and into the park to share one of The Bard’s most famous works with the public.

The theater company is preparing its debut of Shakespeare in the Park, performing Macbeth for the inaugural show. The show will run Thursday, Aug. 15 to Sunday, Aug. 18 at the Virgil Syverson Performance Center at Harmon Park.

Director Michelle Swanson, who has studied Shakespeare extensively, said being able to put the show on is a “dream come true.” Swanson approached members of the company and pitched the idea, and she said there was immediate interest and support.

“For a long time I’ve wanted to start Shakespeare in the Park,” she told the Williston Herald. “It’s always been a dream of mine and a desire, and it’s kind of my baby. So we pulled together a plan and decided on Macbeth and asked Inc! if they would be willing to host us in a way. Inc! has been really great with supporting us and helping us out with it.”

The cast of 17 has been rehearsing for many weeks, adjusting to the new surroundings of the park, rather than the familiar comforts of the Old Armory stage. Swanson said the location makes for some unique challenges, as cast members got used to working without microphones and projecting their performances so that everyone in the audience can hear.

Swanson said the well-known Scottish tragedy explores the themes of fate and destiny, as the titular character becomes obsessed with the knowledge that he will become king. The play unfolds as Macbeth becomes consumed with ambition, driven by the words of his wife. As the bodies pile up, Macbeth becomes more paranoid and guilt-ridden, struggling to maintain the power he believes he was fated to have.

The performances are free to the public, so anyone interested in seeing some live theater is invited to attend. As the performances are outside, Swanson recommends that people bring chairs, blankets, snacks, sunscreen and a cold beverage to enjoy the show. Performances are at 7 p.m. Aug. 15 to 17, and 3 p.m. on Aug. 18 at Harmon Park.

Williston man charged with rape found not competent to stand trial

A 75-year-old man who was charged in December with raping a woman has been found not competent to stand trial.

The prosecution and defense both agreed with the findings of a competency examination performed at the North Dakota State Hospital that found Larry Trout was not competent. Trout was charged in December with gross sexual imposition in December. That charge took the place of a misdemeanor charge of sexual assault that was filed in August 2018.

In both cases, police filed the charges by testifying before a judge rather than filing an affidavit of probable cause, so information on the accusations against Trout was limited. In the criminal complaint filed in Northwest District Court, prosecutors accuse him of performing a sex act on a woman he “knew or had reasonable cause to believe … suffered from a mental disease or defect which rendered her incapable of understanding the nature of his conduct.”

At a status conference Wednesday afternoon, Eric Lundberg, assistant state’s attorney for Williams County, and Misty Nehring, Trout’s public defender, both agreed with the findings of the evaluation. The report was filed with the court under seal and is not available to the public.

Northwest District Judge Kirsten Sjue said in court Wednesday that the evaluation recommended that Trout be transferred to an inpatient facility for evaluation and treatment.

Nehring told Sjue that the report was vague about whether Trout might regain competency with treatment.

“We would have a much better answer when he (is) there in person,” she said.

Sjue asked Lundberg and Nehring to work together to file a motion to have Trout transferred to the state hospital.

“It’s better to do it sooner rather than later,” Sjue said.

Missouri River runoff forecast rises

MINOT, N.D. — What was already forecast to be the second-highest amount of runoff into the Missouri River system in 121 years has increased once again, the Minot Daily News reported.

In their August forecast, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has revised the amount of water expected to enter the Missouri River system this year to 52.9 million acre feet, an increase of 3 million acre feet from the July 1 outlook.

“Runoff remained particularly high in the reaches from Garrison Dam in North Dakota to Sioux City, Iowa, which ranged between three to seven times average,” the Corps said in a statement regarding July rainfall.

The Corps’ July outlook projected an end-of-August elevation of 1,846.8 feet for Lake Sakakawea. The August outlook shows an increase to 1,848 feet. By the end of December, Lake Sakakawea should drop to 1,839.5 feet and meet the end-of-February 2020 goal of 1,837.5 feet, the Corps said.

Lake Sakakawea remains the only one of the upper big three reservoirs that is within its prescribed “exclusive flood control” zone. Sakakawea stood at 1,851.24 feet Wednesday, Aug. 7. The reservoir’s exclusive flood control zone is 1,850-1,854 feet, which is spillway level.