Oil, gas development money paying off for Affiliated Tribes

NEW TOWN – The Three Affiliated Tribes will be debt free in 2013, thanks to money from oil and gas development on the Fort Berthold Reservation, says tribal chairman Tex Hall.

Two years ago, the tribes the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, had a debt of $110 million. As of mid-November, the tribal business council paid down 70 percent of that debt, leaving a $34 million debt, Hall said in his annual report.

“But the really good news is this: By 2013, the MHA Nation will be debt free,” he said.

Hall said a fund created and set up for all tribal members, including those who do not receive oil royalties, has grown to a total of $100 million. The fund started out with $25 million. In November, the tribal business council invested another $75 million in the fund. Hall said the money will be invested and only the interest that comes out of the fund will be spent. With the interest, he said the tribes will be able to pay out dividends to enrolled tribal members.

Hall said the tribes have paid off money that was borrowed against the $30 million economic recovery fund better known as JTAC.

The tribes have added $10 million to the $30 million JTAC for a $40 million trust fund, then the tribes created a $10 million tribal Economic Development Trust Fund, according to Hall’s report.

He said $18 million has been invested in a tribal mortgage company that will give people from all segments of the reservation an opportunity to purchase homes.

The council appropriated $1 million for drug prevention and awareness. The council appropriated another $1 million for increasing the law enforcement budget for hiring and housing more police officers, and it created a Drug Task Force to search out new and effective ways to combat the scourge of drug use and trafficking on the reservation.

Funding has been set aside to build staff housing for the Elbowoods Memorial Health Center in New Town. Phase 2 of the health center that includes an emergency room and air and ground ambulance will be finished.

New federal funding has been approved that will allow the tribal fire department to extinguish life-threatening fires that occur at tribal and nontribal homes, buildings, clinics and schools. The Bureau of Indian Affairs only funds and authorizes putting out grassland fires, Hall said.

A tribal Roads Task Force was created for the rebuilding of roads. Through the task force, an “Adopt a Highway” campaign was created, with Enerplus adopting BIA Route 30 in Mandaree to maintain and provide snow removal. More oil and gas companies are expected to follow suit, Hall said.

The council approved investing $250,000 to renovate the community centers across the reservation.

The administration is working on amending its state oil and gas tax agreement so the tribes get their fair share, Hall said. He said under the current agreement, so far, the state of North Dakota has received $242 million while the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation has only received $147 million. He said that battle once again will be taken to the N.D. Legislature.

The Three Affiliated Tribes received a water discharge permit for the Thunder Butte Refinery from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency which means it has cleared a major hurdle, Hall said. The refinery is to be built near Makoti.

This past August, the tribal business council approved a resolution authorizing it to issue $360 million in tax-exempt bonds to finance the refinery. Tax-exempt bonds or TED bonds, are a new type of tax-exempt borrowing created under the Stimulus Act passed by Congress in February 2009.

The tribes received approval in October to transfer to trust status the 469 acres for the project. The council also recently approved Chemex, a Salt Lake City company, as the engineers for the new refinery.

The tribal business council also has purchased two tribal businesses and one property, Hall said in his report.

The tribes now own the Tribal Ranch in the Mandaree area. The ranch consists of 10,000 acres of fee land that the tribes obtained in 1999. Fee land is land that is not held in trust by the federal government.

The ranch has four existing oil-producing wells, Hall said. “We plan on building another 40 wells on the property in the next few years. With these investments, the Tribal Ranch will be worth over $70 million.”

The tribes have also completed purchasing Twin Buttes Custom Homes at Twin Buttes.

“The Twin Buttes Community Association through a proposed resolution will obtain management and operation of this facility to build homes that will also create jobs for the community,” Hall said. He said owning the company will allow the tribes to build homes for workers and their families in the Bakken oil field as soon possible.

This year the tribes purchased the Geving property, which consists of 67 acres near Parshall in the Northeast Segment of the reservation. The council has hired an architectural firm to develop a design layout and business plan for the property, Hall said. The plan will include several features for a new horse therapy ranch that will provide housing for foster children, equine therapy for troubled youth, a tribal gift shop, rodeo grounds and a tribal hotel.