Senator John Hoeven made a stop in Williston on Wednesday April 7, meeting with city leaders and Sanford Health representatives to discuss the ongoing development of the former Sloulin Field International Airport property.
Mayor Howard Klug, City Administrator David Tuan, Economic Development Director Shawn Wenko and Williston Airport Director Anthony Dudas joined Dr. Michael LeBeau, President and CEO of Sanford Health’s Bismarck region, to discuss the redevelopment.
Sen. Hoeven was instrumental as a member of the Senate Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Committee in securing more than $114 million in federal funding to relocate and build the new Williston Basin International Airport, which opened in October 2019.
Klug shared with Hoeven all of the successes Williston has had recently in terms of infrastructure and development, including the new waste water treatment center, Public Works building, City Hall remodel, as well as work being done to improve the city’s streets.
“Over the years, we’ve built this city up. The projects just go on and on,” Klug told Hoeven. “We have a vision for the city, and with this partnership now, we’re going to be ready to move into the future.”
City officials have been working to repurpose the former airport property, with Wenko saying there has been much interest in the property. Two restaurants have already signed on, with Sanford being the most recent business to announce its intention to build at the site.
The scope of the Williston Square project is immense, with plans for a new civic center, hotels, additional retail and restaurant options, as well as outdoor gathering features such as an amphitheater and skating pavilion. A cornerstone of bringing such options to an area is healthcare, Hoeven said, stating that Sanford’s addition will make Williston even stronger as a community.
“Central to any vibrant community is a strong local economy and essential services, including health care,” Hoeven explained. “With the opening of the Williston Basin International Airport in a new location, it’s important that the Sloulin Field property is repurposed to best address the needs of the community. As the region continues to grow and develop, this new hospital and clinic will help ensure individuals in the region won’t have to travel long distances to receive health care.”
The leaders discussed the project and outlined efforts to construct the new $150 million clinic and hospital. The City of Williston and Sanford plan to have an agreement completed by August 31, with construction beginning late this year or early next spring and concluding as soon as 2024. .
“To be as far along as you are in developing the old site is remarkable,” Hoeven said.
“We’re moving forward, we’re not standing still in the City of Williston.” Klug added.
Additionally, Sanford Health announced its initial community board for the new facility to be built in Williston Square. The community board will provide planning and development oversight of Sanford’s Williston operations and become the first hospital board upon project completion.
“Health care is best served at the local level, and we are excited to have a group from Williston and the surrounding area committed to helping us provide a high level of care to patients in the region,” LeBeau said. “The board’s formation is a significant step in our planning and development process.”
Community board members include:
-Ward Koeser: Former co-owner, Kotana Communications/former Williston mayor
-Charlotte Ferrell: Regional director, Northwest Human Service Center
-Sara Kasmer: Accountant controller/oil and gas analyst, K&A Oil
-Dan Kalil: President, Kalil Farms
-Dr. John Miller: President, Williston State College
-Kristin Iverson: Financial associate, Thrivent
-Whitney Stephenson: Senior landman, Equinor
-Travis Pribula: Co-owner/coach at CrossFit Vokse
-Sen. Brad Bekkedahl: State senator representing District 1, Williston City Commissioner
“Having a health care provider that includes the input of the local community worked very well for Williston,” added Klug. “This opportunity to work with a health care provider on a local level to provide insight about unique issues that affect our community will be positive for our city and region.”
Local Sanford physicians will be added to the community board for the new hospital and clinic in the future.
Williston State College is searching for a new president, holding public forums for the community to get to know the candidates.
The college has five candidates vying for the presidential role, with each holding a separate forum at WSC’s Teton Lounge. Scott Molander and Dr. Sandra Kiddoo held their forums on April 6 and 7, visiting with college faculty, city leaders and community members about their plans for the position. The candidates toured the college campus as well as the Train ND facility, learning the ins and outs of campus life and what WSC and Williston have to offer. The informal sessions gave the candidates a chance to chat about their qualifications and what they hoped to bring to the table as WSC’s new president.
Both Molander and Kiddoo expressed the importance of being involved in the community as the face of the college, saying that the partnerships cultivated will only further add to the success of any college. Being more involved and creating a more community-minded environment will help keep students in Williston as well, he said.
“It’s so important to be interconnected with the whole community,” Molander said. “There’s a lot of people that want to stay here and work. It’s a great lifestyle, a great place to raise your kids.”
Kiddoo said that not are are community relations with the college important, but that an effective president should strive to work with the local businesses, as well.
“That’s a critical component of any president, is being engaged in the community and working with community businesses,” she explained. “You have to have your economic development, workforce development, community organizations and your college all communicating well together to figure out how to meet the needs of the community.”
The candidates said another vital factor to the college would be successfully recruiting and enticing students to attend WSC. The college president should be directly involved with that job, Molander and Kiddoo said, taking on the public face of the institution in order to become a leader in showing what the college has to offer.
“I envision a road trip from Powers Lake to Glasgow to Watford and every city in-between just to get the message out there,” Molander said. “To me, that’s the number one thing, a president has to be the face of the school.”
“The college president has to be recruiting 24-7,” Kiddoo said. “You do that by becoming that advocate, by telling the stories of the things that are happening on campus to your community and at the state level.”
The candidates will spend the remainder of the week exploring the campus and city, getting a feel for the area and community they may be becoming part of. The candidate forums continue on April 8, with selections to be narrowed down in a meeting held on April 9, and a final decision expected to come at the end of the month.
To the casual observer, the scene at Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the McKenzie District of the Little Missouri National Grass land might look like something from a Netflix movie. Clouds of red trail from planes, drifting down toward a smoldering, billowing world of smoke and blackened earth below.
The stuff, referred to by firefighters as “red slurry,” is actually a fire retardant. Its use in North Dakota is quite rare, District Ranger for Little Missouri National Grasslands Lucas Graf told the Williston Herald.
“The severity of the fire in terms of size and speed is pretty rare here,” he said. “We’re in the driest year on record. It’s 106 or 112 years I think that we’ve been tracking the weather here and this is the driest one.”
Red slurry is generally a mixture of water, fertilizer, and other chemicals, including iron oxide, which makes it bright red. The color makes it more easily spotted by aerial surveyors, who are tracking the progress of the fire.
The material is generally not dropped on the fire itself. It’s dropped in advance of the fire, to halt its march by depriving it of fuel. It’s also commonly used to protect trees, homes, and other structures. The fertilizer in it helps trees and vegetation regrow once the fire is over.
The materials used for these retardants are generally considered nontoxic to people, as well as most plants and animals. It is potentially toxic to fish, however, so isn’t supposed to be used within 300 feet of water sources.
The retardant is being dropped by two U.S. Forest Service air tankers from South Dakota.
Graf said a tremendous amount of smoke is continuing to well up from the ground in and around the park and the grasslands. The smoke prompted warnings from state environmental officials on Tuesday, urging the public to limit time outdoors, particularly for the elderly, children, and those with respiratory conditions. That issue could get worse this week, with high wind expected.
An estimated 5,000 acres have burned as of Tuesday morning, and the fire had reached 45 percent containment, according to a media release from the North Dakota Forest Service. On Wednesday, that figure was updated to 50 percent containment. The 5,000 acres did not include a roughly 2,000 acre perimeter.
Fire crews have been using back-burning — elimination of vegetation using controlled burns — to make a perimeter around the fire, and keep it boxed up.
“Most of the perimeter of the fire is in pretty good shape,” Graf said. “We have some interior burning, which is at this point within the National Park. So that’s what we’re focusing our resources on rat this point.”
That interior burn includes things like juniper trees, which can go up explosively. It also includes coal seams, which can burn for decades.
“We have coal seams from the ‘99 Halloween fire that are still lit,” Graf said. “Those can burn for decades.”
They don’t usually start fires on their own — but they can. A small coal seam, which was ignited by the Magpie Fire, burnt around a 100 acres or so a few months ago on the border of Billings and McKenzie County, Graf said.
More than 100 people are still involved in fighting the blaze, including firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Units have also come from other states, and a helicopter team was expected to arrive Tuesday afternoon.
How well things continue to go will depend in part the behavior of wind in the next few days, Graf said. There will be multiple days with hot spots in the area. Many of the draws will take time to burn out.
So far, there have been no losses of livestock, structures, or human lives as a result of the blaze. The fire is not expected to have long-term negative environmental impacts, though it will create short-term pain, particularly for those who relied on the grasslands for forage.
“It’s a big loss in grazable land for them, in what is already a drought year,” Graf said. “So this is going to be really tough for some folks.”
The grass, meanwhile, should grow back stronger within a couple of years. Fire helps knock back noxious weeds, and helps improve wildlife habitat long term.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but authorities have indicated they believe it has a human cause. Graf pointed out with the area so dry, it would not take much for another fire to start, and he urged the public to be cautious.
“I know everyone here in the local community knows, but we’re incredibly dry, it’s unseasonably warm weather, and we’re not looking at precipitation probably for at least a couple of weeks, so folks need to be really careful about the activities they’re doing out there.”
As a result of the extreme dryness, the USDA Forest Service has expanded its closures of areas affected by the Horse pasture wildfire south of Watford City. The closure now includes the CCC Campground, the Maah Daah Hey Trail from CCC Campground South to National Forest System Road (NFSR) 823, the Long X and Sunset Trail, Summit Campground, and the Summit Overlook.
The closure applies to all National Forest System lands including roads and trails, in the area from the North Boundary of Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Unit, West of Highway 85, continuing West until NFSR 851 and South of 17th Street Northwest. Complete details of the closures along with maps of affected areas have been attached to this story online at willistonherald.com.
The USDA Forest Service has also issued an Emergency Order for Fire and Shooting Restrictions on all National Forest System lands within Billings, Golden Valley, Grant, McKenzie, Sioux, Slope, Ransom and Richland counties, North Dakota and Corson, Perkins, and Ziebach Counties, South Dakota until further notice. Building, maintaining, attending, or using a fire or campfire, smoking, and discharging a firearm, air rifle, or gas gun are prohibited with some exceptions.
Williams County had $1 million dollars from its 1 percent Public Safety Tax to award behavioral health grants, but, after receiving 19 applications totaling $7.274 million, Commissioners decided to approve an additional $1.118 million from its reserve fund, to stretch the awards a little bit further.
Williams County Communications & Research AnalystLindsey Harriman said all of the applications were worthy, and that those not recommended by the committee for a grant this time will still be getting some help, including a list of resources to help them find additional funding and help with recruitment and retention of employees.
“The applications came from long-standing service providers in the community, new providers and organizations located in other parts of North Dakota,” she said. “The applications were insightful, thoughtful, and we really appreciate the time that providers took to submit the applications.”
The applications were reviewed by a committee which looked at the range of services that would be provided, the populations that would be served, the longevity of the provider, the potential impact of the grants, and other considerations.
The total amount of the awards, including money from reserves, is as follows:
• $549,000 to Chatter Pediatric for hiring incentives over a five-year period for mental health professionals, and for providing services outside of Williston.
• $547,000 to Eckert Youth Homes for expanded outpatient space, hiring personnel and providing services outside of Williston.
• $165,000 to Montgomery Counseling for equipment to expand and enhance telehealth, hire and train personnel, rent additional space, and provide transportation vouchers and hardship assistance.
• $500, 000 to Katie Shannon to purchase a building, hire personnel, and for programming and advocacy.
• $154,562 to Volk Human Services to rent space for a year, upgrade telehealth equipment and purchase equipment, hire and train personnel.
• $112,983 to Prizm Services to acquire space and equipment and hire personnel.
• $89,455 to the Williams County Sheriff’s office for continued behavioral health programming.
With a few exceptions, the entities won’t receive funds until they have expenses to reimburse. They must also report back to commissioners on how the grant money was used, and the impact that it had.
Harriman said a behavioral health resource directory is also being prepared for the county’s website, to help connect people with services they need.
The county might also consider making more behavioral health grants in the future. County Commissioner David Montgomery suggested that funds the county will be receiving from one of the COVID-19 stimulus packages should be used toward that purpose. Williams County will be receiving an estimated $7.3 million from that.
“I think all the details have to be worked out with the federal government on how that money can be spent,” he said. “But I guess common sense would tell me that with the pandemic and all the behavioral health issues that have happened because of the pandemic, some of that money should be able to be used for future grants.”
• Declared the second week of April to be National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week in Williams County, to recognize the hard work and dedication of dispatchers who relay vital information to police and firefighters whenever an emergency occurs.
• Conducted a public hearing and approved the first reading of an ordinance granting $10,000 to Cow Creek Cemetery to demolish a dilapidated church building and install a cemetery sign. A second ordinance that looks at opening up grants for other cemeteries was deferred to the Finance Committee for review.
• Approved a conditional use permit requested by Robert Hvinden for an additional single-family dwelling on a 160-acre property zoned agricultural in the Nesson Valley Township.
• Approved a request from Shelby Anderson for a zone change to rural residential for a proposed 16-acre lot zoned agricultural in the Hardscrabble Township.
• Approved a request on behalf of Lund Oil for a conditional use permit to store bulk fuel for sale on a 6-acre parcel zoned industrial in Williston Township.
• Approved a request made by Tammie Bentz for a zone change from agriculture to urban residential for two proposed 2-acre lots in the Trenton Township.
• Approved a re-subdivisioin for a property located in Buford Township, that will combine two lots into one lot.
• Discussed amendments to an agreement with North Dakota Department of Transportation related to a kiosk contract.
This weekend will be the 40th anniversary of the disappearance of Barbara Cotton. A celebration of her life is planned from 2 to 6 p.m. at Recreation Park in Williston.
Family, friends, and the community are all invited and encouraged to attend the free event. Individuals should plan to bring their own chairs for seating, but snacks and drinks will be provided.
Pastor Steve will speak, and there will be carnations, donated by Country Floral, Subs from Subway and pop from Coca-Cola. There will also be rock painting.
The event is being organized by Kathy Nulph, who is Barbara Cotton’s sister.
“It is the 40-year anniversary of her disappearance, and I just felt it was time,” she told the Williston Herald. “It’s something we should have done years ago, and it just seemed great to do it now.”
Cotton’s disappearance is still painful for the family.
“Barb was a very sweet young woman,” Nulph recalls. “She was smart. She had a good head on her shoulders. She was generous. You know, if someone needed help, she would help you.”
Cotton said a part of her will always have a little bit of hope that her sister is still alive somewhere, even though it is 40 years later.
She has appreciated the long-standing support from the Williston community over the years.
“I want to especially thank Sandee Evanson for everything that she’s done for the podcast and for the event on Sunday,” Nulph said.
Cotton also pleaded for anyone who knows anything about the case to come forward, if they have not already done so.
“I need answers,” she said. “It’s been too long. I love her very much. I miss her. And, if this gets relayed to her, if she could be at her own celebration of life, that would be super awesome.”
Podcaster James Wolner is planning to be at the event, Nulph said. Wolner has been telling the story of Cotton’s disappearance for the Dakota Spotlight. His series includes interviews with Cotton’s friends and family members, as well as other details from police records and case files.
Cotton was 15 at the time of her disappearance, on April 11, 1981. She was last seen in front of the Plainsman Hotel between 11 p.m. and midnight.
Her mother called police to report her missing, but no sign of her was ever found.