Posted by: justawriter | September 20, 2011

Far Afield – Change is inevitable

Change is seldom comfortable. Since time immemorial people have adapted to the rhythms of days, weeks, seasons and years and just when they think they’ve got it figured out something happens to change all the rules.
For the first few decades of white settlement in the Dakotas, the settlers thought they could farm like it was Iowa and raise cattle like it was Kansas. It worked for a few years but soon blizzards and droughts destroyed the crops and killed the livestock and it was time for farmers and ranchers to adapt or leave. For 70 years farmers and ranchers became adept at conserving every rare raindrop that fell on their land. But in 1993 it started raining on North Dakota and it hasn’t stopped yet. Over the years the flooding has spread from the Devils Lake Basin to Grand Forks and Fargo in 1997, Bismarck and Beulah in 2009, and Minot this year. Even Lake Sakakawea wasn’t able to handle all the water that rushed down the Missouri this year and damaged homes and recreational facilities around its shoreline and downstream.
As one young farmer told me 15 years ago, “I spent my entire life learning how to farm in a drought. I don’t know how to farm in a flood.” We are learning those lessons now, but they have been as hard and painful as they were for farmers and ranchers in the 1920s and ’30s.
The North Shore of Lake Sakakawea is going through a change that is just as profound and dramatic with the unbelievable increase in oil drilling. The energy industry has brought in thousands of workers but still can’t find enough people to fill all the positions on drilling rigs or behind the wheels of all the trucks. Local employers are suddenly finding that their workers are no longer willing to take jobs that pay just a single digit per hour. Housing, a perennial problem in the region, has become a full blown crisis.
City, county and state governments have been accused of being to slow to adapt and cope with changes in the oil patch. I haven’t been around here long enough to know if it’s true or not, although I’m trying to learn.
However, I am seeing things change in just the few weeks I have been in the area. Parshall is working on annexing enough land to about triple its current area so it can offer city services to new industry. Plans for improved streets and new sewer lines are also on the drawing board. The New Town City Council has approved funds to extend sewer service to new parts of the city. That same meeting developers asked the council to annex more land into the city so they can build a new hotel near the new clinic that will open in October. Area schools are adding on to their buildings and building homes for teachers.
No doubt many will think this is too little, too late. That is understandable given the scale of the impacts the area is experiencing. But it isn’t enough to complain in the cafe or coffee shop about roads or housing or any of the dozens of other serious problems our communities are facing. People need to get involved with the boards and organizations that can do something about these problems. Whether it is the city council and county commission or Lutheran Social Services and Annabelle Homes, if you want them to do something you have to talk to them. You also have to listen to them. We need to have a conversation, not a shouting match, so everyone can work together to take advantage of this boom in a way that will make the entire region an economically stronger and better place to live for decades to come.


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