MANDAREE Three Affiliated Tribes and Bureau of Indian Affairs officials hope oil companies will help pay for repairing damaged roads on the Fort Berthold Reservation.
Damaged roads are a major and ongoing problem on the reservation. Most of the damaged roads are in the Mandaree area in the West Segment of the reservation where there is extensive oil development.
Both tribal and BIA officials presented information about draft cooperative agreements with oil companies to help with the cost of road work at a July 21 meeting of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Roads Task Force.
This photo, taken by Nina Fox east of Mandaree Wednesday, shows one of the many sections of damaged pavement on Bureau of Indian Affairs Road 12. The 18.6-mile stretch goes through Mandaree and has more than 80 potholes.
The meeting was held in the 4 Bears Casino & Lodge, west of New Town, with representatives of oil companies, tribal departments, state and federal governments attending.
Because the two agreements are similar, tribal and BIA officials plan to work on combining the agreements into one.
John Fredericks, tribal attorney, said the tribes' draft cooperative agreement would provide a cooperative mechanism between the tribes and the oil companies to provide for the repair and improvement, and maintenance of either a road or stretch of road.
He said the Three Affiliated Tribes' agreement sets forth how an oil company will contribute all or a portion of the cost or it could be in-kind cost through provision of equipment or services.
"It's fairly broad in a way that this can get accomplished. The ultimate goal is that the oil companies will contribute to the cost of repairing and maintaining the roads that they use," he said.
Tex Hall, chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes, who chaired the July 21 meeting, said a tribal subcommittee on roads has prioritized nine roads on the reservation which are in desperate need of repairs. He said Bureau of Indian Affairs Road 12, an 18.6-mile paved road through Mandaree, is the No. 1 priority.
Doyle Bell, director of tribal Transportation, said he counted "over 80" potholes in BIA 12.
BIA 12 has a daily traffic count of 1,440 vehicles, although that number probably has gone up, Hall said. "Route 12 was not designed for truck traffic when it was designed quite a few years ago."
The same day as the meeting, Hall ordered a portion of BIA 12 temporarily closed to semitruck traffic and heavy equipment until the roads were fully paved and fixed.
There is a great deal of oil activity along Road 12. Hall said 22 wells are drilling or producing there now. He said 60 wells are to be drilled there within the next two years (2011 and 2012) and there will be 96 new wells between 2013 and 2015. A total of 178 wells will be along along that road by 2015, he said.
Arnie Strahs, Mandaree representative to the tribal business council, said, currently six or seven oil companies are working in that area but in the next few years, there will be 180, 200 or so wells there. "For every well, it takes 200 and some trucks," he said.
He told the group the roads already are in bad shape but "just think of the trauma that's going to be thrown on the roads in the next years."
"These bad roads are affecting everything that we have. They're going to affect the safety of everybody going on them, they're going to affect you because it's going to cost you more," Strahs said, referring to such things as truck repair costs or extra hours to take detours.
Strahs reiterated what others at the meeting said that lengthy detours because some roads on the reservation, including N.D. Highway 22 between Mandaree and Killdeer, are closed is impacting the health of tribal members.
The state closed Highway 22, 18 miles north of Killdeer, because the ground shifted under the road, causing dropoff of the pavement.
Several people explained that dialysis patients must travel extensive miles and long hours for their dialysis treatments or other medical appointments in New Town.
Casey Fredericks, who lives at Twin Buttes in the South Segment of the reservation, has to use a lengthy detour route through Watford City to get to New Town. He said it would seem like the state could put a higher priority on getting that road open.
He said the road closure has "a disproportionate effect upon people that live on the Fort Berthold Reservation from that road because they do business in Killdeer and the Dickinson area, and it's costing people a lot of money. It's affecting a lot of people's business."
Hall added that Highway 22 being closed is really impacting the Mandaree and Twin Buttes areas, "let alone the education and health."
Deborah Thompson, tribal Health director, said the Killdeer ambulance no longer can respond to the West Segment. She said another issue is the two recreation areas, Skunk Bay and McKenzie Bay, and other residents in that segment.
"If you've got someone who has an emergency, it's almost like playing Russian roulette to get to them. It's just like we're waiting for something to happen," she said, adding, "I just think it's really critical we look at getting something done soon."
Because of roadwork west of New Town, many at the meeting complained about the long delays for traffic to get through the construction area. There also were reports of doctors and nurses who can't get to satellite clinics in reservation communities to see patients because of the road problems.
"It will also affect our education. We used to have quite a few teachers that came from Dickinson, Halliday and Killdeer area. They're not even going to make it now," Strahs said.
"These bad roads are affecting everything that we have. They're going to affect the safety of everybody going on them," he said.
"When you guys think about helping us out, think really hard. It's costing everybody a little bit of something. I just hope it doesn't cost too many fatalities," Strahs said.
Mervin Packineau, tribal treasurer and Parshall-Lucky Mound representative to the tribal business council, said, "We've got to work together. If you weren't here, another oil company would be. When you guys came and asked to get these leases, we picked you," although he said some of the leases were flipped (sold to another company) and obtained that way.
He said the road problems are something "that just happens and we're going to have to deal with it."
As elected officials, Packineau said their ultimate goal is to protect the people by making the roads safer and protect their lands.
"Hopefully, we can look at it as a project that we can do together and get these roads done so you guys can get your business done faster, get your trucks out of there faster... and make the roads safe for everybody. And that's all we're asking," Packineau said.
Hall stressed that help from the oil companies for road repairs on the reservation is essential.
"If it doesn't happen and the tribe pays for it 100 percent, we're going to have to shut down some of these roads based on the liability issue these roads are not safe. We're put in a position that if there's an accident or fatality that could happen, we're going to shut those down. We're kind of put in a corner here. It's kind of where things are at," Hall said.
"We've got 45 days to get these roads shaped up," he added, based on the road construction season.
None of the oil company representatives attending the meeting commented on the issues discussed that day.