As budget cuts loom, DOT may cut section shop in New England, seven others
By COLE BENZ | Herald Editor
New England is at risk of losing their department of transportation section shop, which could cause delays around the city during times of bad weather.
The station in New England is one of eight total on the chopping block as a part of Senate Bill 2012, aimed at defraying some costs within the department of transportation. Locations in Courtenay, Gackle, Litchville, Fessenden, Finley, Mayville and Starkweather are the other seven slated for closure.
City leaders including Mayor Marty Opdahl, three city council members, and New England Public School Superintendent Kelly Koppinger were in Bismarck on Thursday, March 2 to testify against the closures during the hearings in the Appropriations Committee. Opdahl, Koppinger and council member Lyle Kovar all spoke during the hearings. Opdahl said Rep. Mike Schatz also spoke.
If the bill passes in the House, stations in Belfield, Bowman, Dickinson, and Hettinger could assist New England in road care. North Dakota Department of Transportation spokesperson Jamie Olson said that all four locations would assist where needed, there wouldn’t be a designated location specifically for helping New England.
“They’ll all help service the roads,” Olson said.
But getting to and from New England from any of those locations may cost the city precious time.
“We know that currently our highway department stationed out of New England has done a tremendous job of taking care the roads,” Opdahl said. “We will sacrifice some time by having them in different locations.”
The big concern for the city leaders is that the delay in snow removal will cause a delay in operations throughout the city. Opdahl cited the many employees that commute in both directions along highway 22, and other rural areas.
Koppinger said that 58 percent of the faculty staff at New England Public School are coming from Dickinson and rural areas. And 67 percent of the student body come in from the rural setting.
“A large portion of our population lives outside of the New England area, which needs that snow plow to take and make sure that we have cleared roads,” Koppinger said. “To me I think that was the main concern that I had was that they were going to service from Bowman and Belfield, and that’s just ridiculous.”
Koppinger also told The Herald that a later response to snowy roads could have resulted in more cancelations this school year. Currently, New England has had two cancellations, and four two-hour delays. With later response those late delays could have turned into cancelled school.
“We would probably have called school off four additional days,” he said.
Opdahl said there was an amendment attached to the original bill that would have required a two-year study on the eight locations, to see if there was a better alternative. But that amendment failed.
Olson said that the proposed closures would happen at the beginning of the biennium, which is July 1, 2017.
“It was a need we had in our budget due to a reduced revenue that we have,” she said, adding that “We’re not talking about a drastic change in service, we’re talking about a small adjustment.”
She also said that the department is always concerned about emergencies, and that those are situations the deal with already.
“There’s always emergency-type situations that arise that we assist with, that won’t change,” she said.
Opdahl told the Herald that the last chance to save the facility may be if the House can attach another study amendment.
“That is probably our only hope right now is if the House offers up an amendment to the original budget [for] a two-year study,” Opdahl said.
But if he can help by speaking up again, he will.
“If there is an opportunity to go down there and plead our case again we would certainly do so,” he said.