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Proposal for North Dakota-backed amusement park scrapped

BISMARCK (AP) — A proposal for a state-backed theme and amusement park that has been mocked as a symbol of wasteful spending was withdrawn Wednesday from the budget of an agency that promotes economic development and tourism in North Dakota.

A legislative conference committee of three House members and three senators scrapped the provision for the facility on state-owned land adjacent to Interstate 94 near the existing National Buffalo Museum in Jamestown, which is about midway between Fargo and Bismarck.

The unanimous vote came after the Senate soundly rejected state Commerce Department’s more than $129 million budget Tuesday, with the proposed facility being the major sticking point.

The House earlier approved the agency’s budget with the included provision, but not without much criticism as being a waste of taxpayer money.

“If you wonder why voters are angry, just take a look at this,” Bismarck GOP Rep. Rick Becker said of the project on the House floor last week.

Supporters of the facility envisioned bison-related attractions, a museum, an amphitheater, kid-friendly activities, tethered balloon rides and a zip line. Backers believed it would provide and economic boost to a region with little else to offer.

The proposal was quietly crammed into the state Commerce Department’s more than $129 million budget in the waning weeks of the legislative session. The idea was floated by Jamestown-area Republican lawmakers and never got a public hearing. GOP House Majority Leader Chet Pollert also supported the facility that was to be built in his district.

The plan relied mostly on $60 million in loans from newly approved legislation aimed at creating an in-state investment policy for North Dakota’s voter-approved oil tax savings account, known as the Legacy Fund.

The State Investment Board, which invests the Legacy Fund money, would have also had to approve the idea that required $5 million from local sources. If approved by state investors and the matching money obtained, the project was then to get a $5 million grant from the state’s general fund, which is spent on an assortment of programs, including education and human services, and financed mostly by state taxes on income, sales and energy.