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Burgum plan to expand military training facility pared down

April 1, 2019

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Gov. Doug Burgum’s plan to use millions of dollars from North Dakota’s voter-approved oil tax savings account for expansion of a National Guard training facility has been blunted by lawmakers as part of a compromise between the military and farmers and ranchers.

The first-term Republican governor in January unveiled the plan to use $15 million of the interest from the state’s Legacy Fund to purchase at least 6,000 acres of land for the expansion of Camp Grafton Training Center-South in Eddy County.

Farmers and ranchers in the area had worried about the safety of their families and livestock, increased noise and the loss of private agricultural land to the government,

A bill now considered by legislative budget writers would provide $600,000 for the purchase of 1,600 acres, and the potential long-term lease of 4,400 acres. The bill passed the Senate and is expected to be approved this week in the House.

Maj. Gen. Alan Dohrmann, the commander of the North Dakota National Guard, said the expansion is needed to meet new military spacing and safety requirements for more powerful weapons, from machine guns to grenade launchers.

Dohrmann said the new plan “is the prudent way to advance” with the concerns from nearby landowners.

The North Dakota Stockmen’s Association, the state’s largest rancher organization, in September passed a resolution opposing the expansion, arguing private agricultural land should not be purchased by the government. The group represents more than 3,000 cattle-ranching families.

The group later walked back its opposition, saying it would not oppose land transactions between “willing sellers and buyers.”

“We continue to understand each others’ interests,” Dohrmann said. “It’s critically important for us to be good neighbors.”

The bill forbids the use eminent domain to seize the land if there are no willing sellers.

Burgum spokesman Mike Nowatzki said the governor will support the new plan, even though it has been cut back.

“It keeps the project moving forward,” Nowatzki said.

The North Dakota-owned military complex already covers more than 9,000 acres, including more than 5,000 acres purchased by the state in 1985 for $1 million, records show.