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Williams County Commission votes to offer grants to county's six school districts

The Williams County Commission is going to offer up to $6 million in grant money to the county’s six school districts and will also collect data to help the districts better plan for growth and cooperate.

The commission unanimously approved two school-related projects at its regular meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 6. Commission President David Montgomery said the idea was to take $10 million from the county’s general fund balance and make grants available for both schools and for townships to help with infrastructure.

The county would divide up to $4 million between townships using the process that already exists for townships to apply for funding that comes from frost law permits. The other $6 million would be set aside for the schools.

The school money would be divided proportionally based on the percentage of county students who attend each district. That would make Grenora Public School District No. 99, which had 182 students at the beginning of last school year, eligible for $172,800 in grants, while Williston Public School District No. 1, which had 4,458 students, would be eligible for up to $4,134,600.

Williams County Public School District No. 8, the second-largest district, with 665 students, would be eligible for up to $631,200.

The money would have to be used to either pay off debt or pay for construction to deal with increased enrollment.

Montgomery said he started thinking about a grant program like this last year, when District 1 put together a task force to look at options for new schools.

“This is not something that’s come about in the last several weeks,” Montgomery said. “This is something I’ve been working on for well over a year.”

The plan is to have two distributions — one for this year and one for 2020, with the latter based on enrollment figures as of Sept. 10.

Helen Askim, the human resources director for the county, said one of the goals was to help every district in the county.

“It’s not just a (District) 1 and (District) 8 problem,” she said. “There are six districts in the county and all of them are impacted.”

The other driving force was multiple failures by District 1 and District 8 to get voters to approve bonds to build new schools. In March 2018, voters in District 1 turned down an effort to spend $76 million to replace two elementary schools and add on to Williston High School.

Two efforts in 2019 in District 1 to bond for $60 million to build two new elementary schools and add on to the high school also failed to get the 60 percent of votes required to pass.

A proposal in District 8 to build two elementary schools and a high school with a total cost of $89 million also failed.

Montgomery said he thought voters would have approved a single school, but because there was so much need, they weren’t willing to take on that much debt.

Some districts, including Grenora, Eight Mile Public School District No. 6 in Trenton and Nesson Public School District No. 2 in Ray, have been able to pass bonds, but larger districts have not been able to.

“Somebody needs to step up here and help not only Williston 1, but all of the districts,” he said.

Joanna Baltes, school board president for District 1, said she knew county officials had wanted to help schools if they could.

“We are absolutely thrilled that it went through,” she said.

The district is raising money to help pay for a $12 million proposal for what officials are calling an innovation academy that would be part of Bakken Elementary and Williston Middle School. Baltes said she knew every district in Williams County was seeing jumps in enrollment, so it made sense to include all of them in the grant program.

“I think it’s just a great gesture,” she said.

The other school-related project that was approved Tuesday is an effort by the county to gather information about how districts could better cooperate with the goal of making recommendations on how to best deal with rapidly increasing enrollment.

The county is going to work with Gov. Doug Burgum’s office and the state’s Department of Public Instruction on the study. That effort is going to kick off Monday, Aug. 12, with a meeting between representatives from every school district in the county and state and county officials.

That meeting will be at Mountrail-Williams Electric Cooperative at 1:30 p.m. on Aug. 12. The meeting is open to the public.

Jamie Kelly • Williston Herald  

The long, helpful arm of the law

Eric Dietrich, left, and Katie Ogden, right, both rangers at Lewis and Clark State Park in Epping, show 4-year-old Michael Pelzl the proper way to ride an ATV during the annual National Night Out event at Davidson Park in Williston on Tuesday, Aug. 6.

Crisis Shelter officials say shelter didn't get funding it was supposed to from victim fund
Commissioners will look into paying shelter full amount it was supposed to get

County officials are asking questions about an unspecified amount of money that was supposed to have been paid to the Family Crisis Shelter but apparently wasn’t.

The total amount is several thousand dollars, according to representatives of the shelter, who were present at the regular session of Williams County Commissioners on Tuesday.

The money was to have come from the Crime Victim and Witness fees that are collected and distributed to the State’s Attorney department in the county’s General Fund.

Marlyce Wilder, Williams County state’s attorney, told the Williston Herald in an email that the money would have been collected through the Clerk of Court’s office, then forwarded to the Williams County Treasurer.

“From there it’s my understanding that a portion of what’s collected is designated for victim services, as provided by the State’s Attorneys’ office,” she said. “The balance (and I don’t know any proportions as such) would be available for other distribution — which would/should include the Family Crisis Shelter.”

Wilder said she was not sure about the process for payment to the shelter.

“It sounds like they apply, the commissioners consider their need, and money is paid,” she said.

Ronda Peterson, a board member for the Family Crisis Shelter, told commissioners that their agency is not not asking for the full amount going back to 2014, but would like funds for 2018 and 2019, which total $20,000.

Commissioner Steven Kemp, however, said he would like to see the county pay the whole amount.

“It is a travesty that we didn’t give you that amount,” he said.

Williams County Commission Chairman David Montgomery also said he wants the shelter to get all the funding as well.

“It is only right,” he said. “We just have to determine an amount. If you bear with us a couple of weeks, we will get some answers from Marlyce and can bring back a recommendation to the next meeting.”

A line item is already in the 2018 and 2019 budget for $10,000 for each year.

Peterson said she had come to the meeting mainly to thank Commissioners for that.

“We are here to let you know we are here,” she said. “We provide a valuable service to the community. We would like to continue to receive funding for the crisis shelter.”

Peterson indicated the shelter has provided more services to the community since opening an expanded facility in 2017.

According to statistics provided to the commission, the shelter housed 190 women and 135 children for 7,186 nights of safe shelter in 2018. It also provided services to 407 victims of domestic violence and 51 victims of sexual assault. Advocates helped more than 83 victims file for protection orders, as well as assisting victims of 59 sexual assaults.

Granite Peaks Apartments have a new owner

An apartment complex approved in 2012 for Granite Peaks Partners will be finished by a new company, after commissioners approved transfer of the property’s conditional use permits to Weidner Apartment homes.

Planning and Zoning recommended approving the transfer in its July 18th meeting by a 6 to 2 vote, with Dan Kalil and Barry Ramberg, who is also a Williams County Commissioner, voting against the transfer.

Weidner actually purchased the properties in 2018, but had been unaware that the conditional use permit would not automatically transfer with the sale, according to a staff report on the property.

The only condition in the permit was that 10 percent of the units be designated for public employees.

David Avenell, representing Weidner, told commissioners that 180 apartments for the 300-unit complex have been built out and occupied. His company plans to build out all of the remaining 120 units.

Among conditions of the approval are compliance with existing building codes and approval by Civil and by the Water Board for future development. Parking in the right of way will also be prohibited.

Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the transfer.

Solution floated for plat error

Commissioners will pursue the least costly solution to a plat error in West Prairie Estates, where a portion of a new plat was recorded over the top of an existing plat for Sublot 3.

Williams County Surveyor Pat Beebe recommended vacating the portion of West Prairie Estates that overlaps Sublot 3, and then doing a certificate of correction to add to the legal description of the subdivision.

That would cause five or so lots to be unbuildable after that, Beebe said, so at some point and time West Prairie would have to rearrange that area of the plat.

“My recommendation at this point would be to send out a letter to all of the owners, to see if they are willing to sign the action map,” he said. “They all have to sign, according to the statute.”

If any are unwilling to sign, then the matter would be out of the county’s hands, Beebe said. The owners would have to fight it out in the legal system.

Commissioners unanimously approved authorizing Beebe to send out letters notifying the owners of the proposed solution.

On other matters commissioners:

• Approved a variance allowing the creation of two lots less than 40 acres in Hardscrabble Township, as well as a variance allowing a lot that doesn’t have a public street or road easement. The property owners, who are related, will have to get a deed restriction that requires that easement in the event the lots are ever sold.

• Approved a conditional use permit allowing Plains Pipeline to add two 95,000-barrel storage tanks to a facility at the Trenton Terminal in Judson Township. Commissioners dropped a requirement to pave off-site roads to county standards, as well as one requiring them to participate in paving 48th Street, which company officials said they are not using. Interior roads must be paved, and a trackout pad is required.

• Approved the transfer of a conditional use permit for a gravel pit in Hofflund Township from Melgaard Construction to Max Trax Transport. A requirement to provide an access point at 105th Street was removed, as the company already has an access point a mile west of that.

• Approved a conditional use permit for bulk fuel storage in Judson Township requested by Jared Young. A requirement for 200 feet of pavement into the facility was rescinded in favor of a trackout device.

• Approved a zone change from agricultural to rural residential on 202 acres in Judson Township. The lots would average 10 acres each, with the idea that owners could have horses on the property. The permit for the development is set to expire in 36 months if not constructed or use is abandoned, unless an extension is granted.

• Appointed Ken Kjos for a one-year term as a voting member to represent Williams County on the North Dakota Missouri River Advisory council. Lindsey Harriman, Williams County’s communications officer, was appointed as an alternate. Kjos replaces Corey Paryzek, who resigned.

• Appointed Steven Jensen from Mountain Township to the joint hazards board for Williston’s new airport.

• Approved a bid with Tractor and Equipment for eight new diesel-powered motor graders at a cost of $339,395 each. Trade in value for the equipment is $253,000 each. The other bid was RDO Equipment, with a cost of $335,950 each, and a buyback of $220,350.

• Approved a preliminary budget of $112.9 million in expenditures and set a hearing date of Oct. 1, 2019, for the final budget.

• Authorized the Williams County Commission Chairman to sign documents related to the sale of the county highway department’s old facility to Busted Knuckles brewery. The owners have until Aug. 31 to close on the property.

Photos by Robert Brewer • Williston Herald  

Dance instructor Kori Ross, pictured at front, teaches a group of students at the Dance Expressions Studio, in Williston on Tuesday, Aug. 6.

City of Williston to extend roadways as part of Sloulin Field redevelopment

Sloulin Field is set to be decommissioned in October, leaving acres of land available for development. The City of Williston is looking ahead to future projects for the site, including the extension of roads around the property.

In a release to the Williston Herald from the Williston Economic Development Office, the City said they are moving forward with plans to extend 16th Avenue West and 42nd Street West. The release stated that the project is critical to the City’s plan to redevelop Sloulin Field after it is decommissioned. This will open up around 800 acres of land to development along highways 2 and 85.

“We are nine weeks away from opening a new airport and we have now started to move forward on the redevelopment of Sloulin,” said Shawn Wenko, Williston Economic Development Executive Director. “Planning for this area has been ongoing since 2014. It’s exciting to see the progress.”

The release stated that the estimated $17 million projects are part of the City’s 2020 Capital Improvement Plan, and will be completed in phases as time and funding allows.

The projects include extending 16th Avenue west from 26th Street west to 42nd Street west, extending 42nd Street west from 16th Avenue west to 32nd Avenue west, developing a storm water retention system for the associated roadways and developing drainage areas in the Sloulin Field redevelopment.

Construction for the projects is set for 2020.

“We hope to get them designed this fall or winter and get either 42nd or 16th constructed next year,” David Wicke, Williston City Engineer said in a statement. “16th Avenue west will provide a route to 42nd Street west to travel east to access US Highway 2.

The connection will greatly enhance and benefit transportation and traffic flows from a large segment of citizens and businesses located west of the current airport.”

Wicke said the roadway extensions will provide greatly improved transportation to Williston’s residents.

“The new 42nd Street west extension will go past the golf course and connect to 32nd Avenue west and that will give drivers better access to the high school from the east side and a more direct route to the highway,” Wicke explained. The release added that once those roadways are complete, the Sloulin Field property will be ready for growth, which will likely include some housing and quality of life features. Wicke said his office has discussed “a few options and ideas” for the site, with Wenko adding that the site’s redevelopment is going to be Economic Development’s “next big venture” once the airport is decommissioned.

Lightning strike kills western ND man

RICHARDTON, — A man was fatally struck by lightning at the Schnell Recreation Area east of Richardton on Sunday, Aug. 4, Stark County Sheriff’s Office officials said.

The man was identified as 32-year-old Kyle Brierley, of Dickinson, who was found unresponsive and without a pulse by deputies.

Brierley was taken to the medical examiner’s office, who confirmed that he apparently died from cardiac arrest after he being struck by lightning while volunteering with the Bureau of Land Management.

Stark County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Eldon Mehrer said that an investigation determined that Brierley arrived at Schnell Recreation Area early in the morning to mow along some of the trails.

Mehrer said Brierley brought his own mower and gas and was in the process of loading his truck when the lightning struck him.

“When our deputies arrived, he was found near the rear of his truck, face down and was deceased,” Mehrer said.

According to the National Weather Service, there were 20 direct lightning fatalities in 2018, which was one of the lowest since record-keeping began in 1941. Between 2009 to 2018, on average, 27 people died each year from lightning strikes in the United States.

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Bond reduced to $100,000 for man accused of manslaughter

A judge agreed Tuesday, Aug. 6, to lower the bond for a man accused of manslaughter after a deadly fight in downtown Williston in May, but not as much as the defense asked.

Northwest District Judge Kirsten Sjue said during a bond hearing Tuesday afternoon that lowering the bond for Justin Crites, 26, from $150,000 to $100,000 was as much as she felt comfortable doing. Misty Nehring, Crites’ public defender, had asked for his bond to be lowered to $25,000.

Crites was arrested in June and charged with manslaughter, a class B felony.

Police and prosecutors claim that early on the morning of May 4, Crites punched Jay LePage, 57, causing LePage to fall and hit his head on the sidewalk. LePage died in a Minot hospital days later.

Nehring argued during Tuesday’s bond hearing that because Crites had never been charged with a serious crime before and because he’d lived in the area for more than five years, he was not a flight risk or a danger to the community.

“There is no reason this bond needs to remain at $150,000,” she told Sjue.

Nathan Madden, assistant state’s attorney for Williams County, argued that even though Crites had limited criminal history, that didn’t mean he wasn’t a danger. Madden argued that Crites punched LePage because he thought LePage had been disrespecting the family of a fellow member of the Prairie Rattles Motorcycle Club.

“To me that’s a threat to society,” Madden said.

Madden also argued that the Prairie Rattlers are a criminal gang and affiliated with other gangs.

In documents filed in the case, investigators refer to Crites and other members of the Prairie Rattlers as members of a gang. According to the affidavit of probable cause, Crites first confronted LePage after an altercation between LePage’s wife and a woman who was related to another member of the Prairie Rattlers.

In court, however, Nehring, however, disputed that. She said the Prairie Rattles were organized in 2007 and were known for community outreach.

According to the North Dakota Secretary of State, Prairie Rattlers MC was incorporated as a nonprofit in 2007.

Sjue said she understood Nehring’s arguments, but that the charge against Crites was serious enough to warrant a high bond.

“I do think the court has a legitimate concern in this case,” she said.

Crites is next due in court for a pretrial conference on Sept. 3.