Today’s Ask Your Government

Dear readers,

A few weeks ago, I put out a call for nominations of local heroes. I’ll return to your Ask Your Government questions next week, but thought it appropriate this week to run the hero responses.

Joel Martwick of Wahpeton, N.D.

Nominated by Travis Kjorsvik of Wahpeton.

“Joel is a local hero because he works for Richland County Communications and is always very helpful when the public calls. Joel always goes above and beyond of what is required of a 911 dispatcher when he takes a call. Whenever someone calls and they are overly excited, Joel always is able to get them calm and help them. He is also a former North Dakota state Telecommunicator of the Year.”

Linda Larson Engelman, of Detroit Lakes, Minn.

Nominated by Steve Larson of Detroit Lakes.

“Linda Larson Engelman presently lives in Detroit Lakes, Minn., where she and her husband retired, but lived in Mayville and Bismarck during her working years.

“I believe Linda deserves special recognition due to the many years she spent traveling the state of North Dakota, counseling the many military families whose husbands and wives were in Afghanistan, Iraq and other world hot spots standing between us and the many threats around the world.

“She worked tirelessly and without much personal ado, leaving her family to make sure that others had comfort in their time of need.”

Capt. John Gaffaney

Nominated by Michele Vannote of West Fargo.

(Edited for length.)

“I am writing to tell you about my local hero, who is my brother, Capt. John Gaffaney, formerly of Williston, N.D.

“(He) was killed on Nov. 5, 2009, at Fort Hood, Texas. He died while completing his final training prior to deployment to Iraq. (In fact, he had arrived at Fort Hood just 16 hours prior to his death, which resulted from being shot at close range by Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, a psychiatrist who has been charged with murder of the 13 soldiers at Fort Hood.)

“USA Today carried a story in their November 23-24, 2009, edition, ‘Witnesses say reservist was a Fort Hood hero.’ … ‘Two eyewitnesses recounted how the reservist (Gaffaney) threw a folding chair and ‘tried to knock (Hasan) down or knock his gun down.’ … ‘soldiers were able to escape the gunman when Gaffaney confronted him.

“After 9/11, John was inspired to re-enter the military because he was compelled by an intense sense of duty and honor to his country and his fellow soldiers. He wanted to lend his knowledge and expertise to help in any way he could those who had suffered the emotional wounds of war.

“In his civilian work capacity, John was a county government employee employed by the San Diego County Adult Protective Services Department of Aging and Independent Services. John served seniors and persons with disabilities who were victims of abuse and neglect.

“Thank you for considering John as a person worthy of recognition as a North Dakota local hero. He loved his heritage and was truly a North Dakota ‘native son.’ “

Do you have a question for a North Dakota state government official or agency? Send us your question, and we’ll do our best to find an answer.

E-mail (Subject: Ask your government).

You may also write to Teri Finneman c/o Forum Communications, Press Room, State Capitol, Bismarck, N.D. 58505.

Please include your name, town and a phone number to reach you for verification.

Valley City State, NDSCS projects approved

BISMARCK–Lawmakers charged with finalizing the state’s higher education budget approved a few campus projects this morning.

They include funding for the Rhoades Science Center at Valley City State University and the Bisek Hall renovation and addition project at the North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton. Each project will receive $10.5 million.

The committee also approved $5 million in general funds for a geothermal energy project at Minot State University.

The committee of three House members and three Senate members is still working out details on the rest of the budget.

Lawmakers consider bill aimed at farm truck drivers

BISMARCK – A car accident that killed a Wahpeton college student has spurred state legislation.

House Bill 1349 would require more scrutiny of the driving records of farm truck drivers.

Any adult with a driver’s license can now haul agricultural products within 150 miles of the farm. So can younger drivers under certain guidelines.

The bill proposes these farm drivers fill out a form created by the state Department of Transportation to reveal past violations or pending actions that may result in the loss of driving privileges.

The employer would need to obtain the driving record abstracts of these drivers from the DOT and verify the information provided by drivers is correct, said Rep. John Wall, R-Wahpeton, the prime bill sponsor.

The proposed law would penalize drivers who don’t tell the truth and employers who knowingly hire someone unqualified.

“I respectfully ask that the final product will in some way keep the worst of the worst from getting behind the wheel of a truck and hauling agricultural products or any other products period,” Wall told members of the House Transportation Committee.

Brenda Gjesdal of Wahpeton gave emotional testimony about the September 2009 day when a sugar beet truck driver ran a red light and killed her 18-year-old daughter, Annie. The driver had a history of violations.

“Every year, we hear how difficult it is for the farmers to find drivers for the beet season,” she said. “We cannot have them hiring any warm body they find to put behind the wheel of these rigs. A car does not win in a crash with a semi-truck.”

Various agriculture groups spoke in opposition to the bill on Thursday. Eric Aasmundstad of the North Dakota Farm Bureau emphasized agriculture should not be blamed for the accident.

“This is a tragic event that I don’t believe this bill is going to do anything to help,” he said. “This was an irresponsible act by an irresponsible person that was hired by an irresponsible employer.”

By and large, North Dakota farmers are trying their best to keep roads safe and spend a lot of time training drivers, Rep. Wes Belter, R-Fargo, said.

“I would just caution the committee to look at this in a very objective way and not overreact in the fact that you think passing a law will prevent this from happening again,” he said.

Rep. Dan Ruby, R-Minot, said he thought a lot of the problem could be addressed by requiring these drivers to have a commercial driver’s license. Wall said he didn’t include that in his bill.

“Quite honestly, as much as I think that would be good, I don’t think a lot of people in the ag industry could get drivers,” Wall said. “I think that would be a real problem.”

The House Transportation Committee did not take immediate action on the bill.

Project Safe Send update

A record amount of unusable pesticides – 215,594 pounds – were collected and shipped out of North Dakota through Project Safe Send in 2010, according to a news release from the state Ag Department.

“More than 400 people brought in more than 100 tons of unusable pesticides to the 12 Project Safe collections sites earlier this month,” Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said in a statement. “Once again, this response indicates a continuing need for this program.”

The previous record of 215,521 pounds was set in 2008, the year that also had the greatest program participation, 535 people.

“More than 7,000 people have used Project Safe Send since 1992 to get rid of their unusable pesticides, more than two and a half million pounds,” Goehring said. “The program has also enjoyed strong, bipartisan support in the Legislature.”

Project Safe Send collections were conducted during July in Adams, Ashley, Cando, Carrington, Crosby, Larimore, Minot, New England, Underwood, Valley City, Wahpeton and Watford City.

The Larimore collection gathered the most chemicals – 61,887 pounds – and was second in participation with 53, while Valley City had the most participants – 79 – and was second in total pounds collected with 45,878. (A listing of collection sites and totals follows this release).

Long-banned products, such as DDT, arsenic and mercury compounds, were among the chemicals brought in this year. One of the more unusual items was an old cream can filled with arsenic-based grasshopper killer.

Veolia Environmental Services of Blaine, Minn, collected, repackaged and transported the waste chemicals to out-of-state incinerators.

For the first time, empty pesticide containers were collected for recycling at five Project Safe Send sites. Container Services Network picked up 13,060 pounds of plastic containers at Ashley, Carrington, Minot, Underwood and Valley City. The recycling program is funded by the non-profit Ag Container Recycling Council.

Project Safe Send is funded by fees paid by pesticide manufacturers to register their products in North Dakota.

“Project Safe Send remains an easy and affordable means for farmers, dealers and homeowners to get rid of these dangerous chemicals,” Goehring said. “As more pesticides become obsolete and are no longer usable for current applications, the need for Project Safe Send remains.”

No. of participants
Lbs. collected
Container lbs. collected

New England

Watford City






Valley City






State parks host artist in residency program

News release:

The North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department is teaming up with the North Dakota Council on the Arts to bring the “Artist In Residency” program to the state parks.

Three area artists are being given the chance to showcase their crafts and talents, each at a difference state park for one week between July 15 and Aug. 30. This is an effort to incorporate the arts into the interpretive and educational activities at Lewis & Clark, Icelandic and Cross Ranch state parks.

Fargo’s Robb Siverson will be featured at Icelandic State Park from Aug. 8-15. Siverson is a passionate photographer drawn to the vastness and grandeur of the Northern Plains landscape. Siverson’s goal is to create a body of work showing North Dakota’s beauty through vivid images of Icelandic’s historical site and landscape.

Heidi Goldberg of Walcott will create a series of graphite and watercolor sketches translated to copper plates from which intaglio prints are made. Goldberg will display her talents at Cross Ranch State Park from Aug. 1-8.

Wahpeton’s Lise Erdrich will focus on writing environmental essays and introducing pictography derived from the traditional Anishinaabe art form of birch bark scribing during her stay at Lewis & Clark State Park from July 25-Aug. 1.

The Artist in Residency program recruits writers, composers, visual and performing artists, allowing them to express their experience through their art. Each artist is conducting a presentation and hands-on workshop for the public during their stay at the parks.

For more information about the visiting artists, contact the parks in which they are staying. More information about the parks can be found at