Dalrymple advised to write Obama about FEMA trailers

NEW TOWN, N.D.—Gov. Jack Dalrymple plans to write a letter to President Barack Obama to ask for help addressing the housing needs on North Dakota reservations.

During a news conference here with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Dalrymple said the FEMA trailers brought in to help Minot families after last summer’s flooding could be put to additional use in North Dakota after those families move out.

The trailers were specifically designed for northern climates and are a great opportunity to help the housing needs on the Fort Berthold and Turtle Mountain reservations, Dalrymple said.

“We are asking that the reservations in North Dakota have an advantage in the bidding and application for the distribution of those trailers,” Dalrymple said. “We are going to try to cut through that bureaucratic process and see if we can keep a lot of this great housing right here in the area.”

The Bureau of Indian Affairs is saying the trailers need to be available to every reservation in America equally, Dalrymple said. However, he said it doesn’t make sense to move trailers specially designed for cold climates to southern reservations.

“The trailers are near the places where they really need housing, especially for poor people,” Dalrymple said. “We never get an opportunity to get FEMA trailers that are designed for the cold … we finally get a once in a lifetime opportunity and then they want to take them back south again.”

The BIA falls under the Department of the Interior, which is why Dalrymple said he brought the issue up to Salazar. The interior secretary recommended writing to Obama about the issue and sending copies of the letter to himself and to FEMA, Dalrymple said.

Even receiving 150 trailers would alleviate some of the pressure and help families in need, said Delvin Reeves, a construction specialist for Tribal Housing Services in New Town on the Fort Berthold Reservation.

“There’s just nothing available. There’s really nothing available,” Reeves said. “It’s disheartening when we have to let people know that.”

There’s been an increase in the number of homeless families who need to live with other family members due to rising rents and an overall lack of housing resulting from the oil boom, he said. Tribal Housing Services has more than 250 applications for FEMA trailers, he said.

 “On top of that, there’s probably many more who have applications in other housing offices,” he said.

Salazar heard about a variety of western North Dakota infrastructure issues during a two-day tour that included stops in Dickinson and New Town.

Three Affiliated Tribes Chairman Tex Hall discussed the challenges of oil boom traffic, including poor visibility, cracked windshields and “a rooster tail of dust.” Immediate road maintenance needs for this year add up to $8.5 million, a fraction of the total needs, he said.

Salazar said it was amazing to see the Fort Berthold Reservation go from one oil well when he was there three years ago to 245 wells today. North Dakota and the Bakken formation are the Saudi Arabia of the Midwest, which means great things for energy independence, he said.

With that comes impacts to roads and infrastructure, and it’s going to take a partnership between the federal, state and tribal governments to address them, Salazar said.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said he wants the federal transportation bill to give priority funding to the nation’s energy corridors. Instead of turning to the Middle East for oil, the nation needs to look to the Midwest, he said.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said it’s important that Salazar came to North Dakota to see the state needs more help with roads and needs pipelines to help take truck traffic off the roads. Hoeven also emphasized the need for the federal government to sign off on refinery projects faster, saying the approval process takes too long.

Also Tuesday, Salazar unveiled new initiatives to expedite development of domestic energy resources on U.S. public lands and Indian trust lands in the Dakotas, Montana and across the country.

The agency will implement new automated tracking systems that could reduce the review period for drilling permits by two-thirds and expedite the sale and processing of federal oil and gas leases, a news release said.