Hoeven, Local and Tribal Leaders Voice Opposition to Corps' Plan to Charge for Missouri River Water

Bismarck, N.D. – At a roundtable meeting this afternoon in Bismarck with Army Corps of Engineers Omaha District Commander Col. Robert Ruch, Sen. John Hoeven and leaders from communities and tribes along the length of the Missouri River voiced their opposition to the agency’s recent proposal to charge businesses, farmers and ranchers for access to Missouri River water.

The plan, proposed in the Lake Sakakawea Draft Surplus Water Report and Environmental Assessment released last month by the Corps, calls for levying fees to recover the cost of the nearly 60-year-old Garrison Dam project. Through the course of the meeting a series of mayors, county commissioners, tribal leaders, economic development specialists and industry representatives joined Hoeven unanimously to tell Corps leaders to oppose the proposal.

Hoeven and others cited the fact that the state has a right to Missouri River water and that North Dakotans bore a substantial burden when the Garrison Dam was built to help protect downstream communities, purportedly in exchange for upstream benefits like municipal and industrial water supplies and irrigation. Tribal representatives pointed to their members’ dislocation from ancestral lands and the spiritual value of the river to their culture, while mayors, county commissioners and industry leaders said the economic stability and strength of their communities is dependent on an affordable, reliable water supply. Nearly all expressed a basic sense of the unfairness involved in storing water on the state’s land and then proposing to charge residents and businesses for the right to use it.

“Today’s comments clearly reflect that there is no legal, historical or ethical basis for charging North Dakotans for the use of a resource that rightfully belongs to North Dakotans,” Hoeven said. “The Garrison Dam created disruption for state residents, tribes and businesses, and never fully followed through on the benefits that were promised in compensation. We’ve asked Col. Ruch here today to help us work with the Corps to resolve the issue, but if it can’t, we will advise the state of North Dakota to sue.”

Those participating in the meeting include Mandan Mayor Tim Helbling; Watford City Mayor Brent Sanford; New Town Mayor Dan Uran; Parshall Mayor Richard Bolkan; Garrison Mayor Shannon Jeffers; Williston Mayor Ward Koeser; Bismarck Mayor John Warford; Williams County Commissioner Daniel Kalil; Mountrail County Commissioner David Hynek; McKenzie County Commissioner Roger Chinn; McLean County Commissioner Julie Hudson; Dunn County Commissioner Daryl Dukart; Mercer County Commissioner Lyle Latimer; Mark Fox representing Three Affiliated Tribes Chairman Tex Hall; Environmental Specialist Adrienne Swallow representing Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Charley Murphy; McKenzie County Jobs Development Authority Director Gene Veeder; North Dakota Rural Water Systems Association, Eric Volk; North Dakota Irrigation Association Executive Director Mike Dwyer; Chairman, Missouri River Joint Water Board Ken Royse; North Dakota Petroleum Council Executive Director Ron Ness; and State Water Commissioner Todd Sando. Sen. Kent Conrad’s office was represented by Marty Beockel.

Today’s meeting in Bismarck follows up on calls Hoeven has had with Gen. William T. Grisoli, Commander and Division Engineer of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Jo-Ellen Darcy, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, as well as a letter Hoeven wrote to Corps Chief Robert Van Antwerp last week asking him to withdraw the proposal and resume drafting the usual easements, as it has for the last sixty years.

“I urge the Corps to process the easement requests in front of it expeditiously and withdraw from its proposals to seek capital recovery from North Dakota-based companies and citizens who seek to access Missouri River water from the reservoir” Hoeven said in his letter. “It’s a matter of State’s rights. It’s a matter of equity and fairness. It’s a matter of common sense.”