2012: A year of great change for Minot

While it seems like an overused phrase, 2012 was truly one for the record books while also being a year of great change in Minot. With the ongoing flood recovery efforts and the energy impact due to the oil boom, our region has been through a lot in 2012.

Before I get too far, I want to thank all the many volunteers, businesses, friends, neighbors and even complete strangers who have helped the Magic City continue recovering from the 2011 Mouse River flood. You have proved to be a resilient, caring, resourceful, compassionate people willing to help when times are tough. As well, a pat on the back to all those who are working to manage the growth and change coming at us from every direction.

Flood Recovery

As I look back on 2012 I see a lot of key points to highlight when it comes to flood recovery. All intersection signals and street lights were repaired, the dead loops and main portions of the Mouse River were cleaned of garbage and flood debris was hauled away from homes – more than 56,500 tons! According to the city assessor’s office, 80 percent of the homes with main-floor flood damage are now habitable; and a report released this summer showed 97 percent of businesses affected by the flood remain open one year later. In many ways our community made great strides in 2012.

State assistance from the November 2011 special legislative session allowed for direct loans through the Bank of North Dakota, housing rehab and citizen retention grant dollars from the North Dakota Adjutant General’s Office through the Souris Valley Long Term Recovery committee, millions through the State Water Commission for voluntary property acquisitions and infrastructure grants from the North Dakota Department of Trust Lands. We have much to be thankful for when it comes to state support toward key flood recovery initiatives.

We will need more support from our state to continue this process. A request is in the governor’s budget for $61 million from the 2013 Legislature that would make a second round of voluntary property acquisitions a reality. These acquisitions would be made to homes within the footprint of the enhanced flood protection plan. The process of formulating guidelines, policies and procedures related to this round of acquisitions is currently under way.

An enhanced flood protection plan, with levees and floodwalls designed up to the flood of record, was adopted in April 2012 by the Minot City Council. Leadership continues with efforts to secure as much federal and state assistance as possible to help build this project. This is a long-term endeavor which will need a large portion of the $820 million price tag to be paid for locally. Input from residents on how they would like to assist with paying for more flood protection is very important.

Minot residents received hundreds of millions in grants and low-interest loans from the federal government over the past 18 months. As well, the city has laid out an action plan for flood recovery that uses $67.5 million in Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery funds. Input from residents and the approval of city council has laid out a plan that includes $14 million for rehab/reconstruction of flooded homes, an expansion of the city landfill, acquisition of empty flooded properties to develop affordable housing, new northern sewer and water lines that make it possible for those who were flooded and do not wish to return to the valley to have more choices on where to live, a fire station on the east side of town and other key projects.

As of the end of 2012 the number of Ward County residents living in FEMA temporary housing units shrank from nearly 2,000 families or individuals down to under 600. A lot of work is still left to be done to ensure all who are interested in a permanent housing solution as a result of having been flooded have a fair chance to find that housing. Conversations continue that would allow a portion of those least able to pay high rents or least able to afford a house get a chance to buy their FEMA temporary housing unit and keep it out on site, just off 55th Street.

In mid-December, the city council decided unanimously to not push forward with the Advisory Base Flood Elevation that would have changed the floodplain in the valley. And while the floodplain, as determined by the federal government, will likely still change in the next three to five years, not implementing this now will allow the community to continue healing without the burden of a new floodplain and more restrictive construction regulations.

And while there is much good, much progress to recognize, we can’t let up – we must finish the job; we must do all that is possible to help those who are helping themselves get back into permanent housing. I, and the city, remain dedicated to our long-term flood recovery and the stability that will bring to our neighborhoods and families.

Energy-related growth

Recovering from the 2011 Mouse River flood isn’t the only thing to be remembered from 2012, our region’s reaction to and impact from the ongoing energy boom remains high on the list. With the greater Minot population likely at more than 50,000 (compared to a 2010 Census count of 40,888) our city is experiencing real and significant development pains.

Airport services are booming, with plans and funding on its way to support a terminal three times the size of the current facility. Enplanements over the last couple of years have grown from around 65,000/year to over 220,000/ year. The governor’s budget request shows $60 million targeted for oil-impacted airports to address growth challenges – the Minot International Airport would need to receive a minimum of $25 million of this to ensure the expansion can be completed by the middle of 2015.

Growth on North Hill, the northeast side of Minot and the south side of town continues to exceed even the boldest of predictions. Everything from new grocery stores to large neighborhoods to small businesses opening up has been the talk of 2012 and will, no doubt, continue into the New Year. Upcoming improvements to downtown Minot thanks to likely EDA disaster grant funds, city funding and private investments totaling more than $100 million are due to a combination of factors and should continue to strengthen the heart of our city. The hotel sector of our economy experienced a boom in 2012 as at least 10 new hotels opened their doors, adding nearly 800 rooms in just 12 months.

The number of oil or energy-related businesses and employees calling the Magic City home is on the rise. In 2010 the city tracked 15 new businesses with around 500 employees. Today, more than 50 companies proudly employ nearly 3,000 people.

A quick look at annual statistics in building permits shows a huge jump in recent years, largely attributable to the energy boom. Let’s compare the past couple of years: for total building permits issued by the city; 2010 was a record-setting year with $100 million, and 2011 doubled that record as Minot permitted $204.5 million in construction. 2012 will shatter the record, as we issued over $300 million in residential and business building permits. $600 million in just three years! That’s what a city of our size, experiencing modest three percent growth, would normally see in 10 to 12 years.

In response to our city’s increasing needs, staffing within city personnel will grow in 2013 by 10 percent. Minot’s police force, firemen and support staff in areas like public works, engineering and city planning will get a boost from additional personnel to better serve the city; 31.5 new positions will be added in 2013.

Given Minot’s growth, the extreme level of stress on water, sewer, roads, landfill and all other city functions is no surprise. The governor’s budget for 2013-2015 includes a $214 million statewide funding request for oil-impacted needs in the western part of the state, just like what we are experiencing. The city is requesting at least $15 million of these Oil & Gas Impact Grant Funds to assist our community so the cost of this dramatic growth isn’t supported solely by utility rates and property taxes.

Running a city of 50,000 people isn’t just about the roads, garbage collection or keeping up with incredible growth – it’s also about maintaining a high quality of life. While our public schools and park system are run by other professionals and elected leaders, I would be remiss not to mention some of what 2012 meant to them. Like all of us, the Minot Public Schools and the Minot Park District are bouncing back from the flood as fast as can be expected and managing growth as well as can be expected. With assistance from FEMA, the state of North Dakota, the city’s community facilities sales tax fund and thousands of volunteers, our parks, schools and all those many things that make us who we truly are continue to improve. 2012 programs such as the “Weekend of Hope: Return to Oak Park” first anniversary commemoration, Stars of Hope and the Minot air show “Soaring over the Souris” are great efforts to not only maintain, but improve the quality of life in Minot.

Thanks for all you do to help the Magic City be what it is today. We are likely to continue seeing change in many ways in our community. Please know that your elected leaders and city staff will continue to work hard to do everything possible in flood recovery, oil impact and all other areas of need. Happy New Year!

(Zimbelman is mayor of Minot)