Projects next phase

After two and half years of planning, Vision West ND is getting ready for its next phase.

“We will keep plugging along,” said program director Shirley Brentrup, Dickinson. “Our hope is through regional planning that folks can come together to take that to the next level.”

Vision West ND is a consortium of 19 oil- and gas-producing counties, Three Affiliated Tribes, regional councils, energy associations and education institutions that seeks to address immediate needs of growing communities and establish a sustainable, diversified economy. It began its planning efforts in February 2012.

Brentrup said the $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development expires at the end of the year. Until then, she said, Vision West is putting finishing touches on some of the efforts undertaken so far.

The consultant-led planning process brought together steering committees of local leaders to develop strategies and action items. Each county or community steering committee session was followed by a public town hall meeting to review strategies and get input.

The result was a number of strategic county plans and the development of a comprehensive regional plan that is still being finalized.

The regional plan is the crux of the effort, said Lyndsay Ulrickson, director of Souris Basin Planning Council and Vision West plan director for Ward County.

“That plan is going to be really great,” she said, noting that any community or county with a project can open the plan and find information that they can run with.”

The regional plan includes action steps on child care, emergency services, housing, transportation, water, health care, human services, education, pipelines and natural gas, zoning, public safety and economic diversification.

One of the action steps calls for investigation into creating a ferry system on Lake Sakakawea. Brentrup said the idea is getting a lift from an MHA Transit Plan developed for the Three Affiliated Tribes that includes a ferry proposal.

The Association of Oil and Gas Producing Counties has committed $31,000 through next year to support the consortium guiding the Vision West efforts and to maintain the website at (www.visionwestnd.com). The website contains information on strategic and regional plans, infrastructure assessments and resources for communities.

Brentrup said a grant from the Bush Foundation is available through October 2015 to provide technical assistance to counties in implementing their plans. The top selected strategies in Ward County’s plan are tourism, value-added agriculture and the development of energy, the downtown and education. Civic engagement and child care are the top quality-of-life initiatives.

Vision West also is pursuing grants to help with the regional plan implementation.

Meanwhile, many communities are moving forward with projects on their own.

Renville County’s plan to build a Mouse River Park restaurant to replace a cafe destroyed in the 2011 flood has resulted in the opening of a seasonal bar that serves food. Underage customers are served on an outside patio.

The City of Surrey has been a participant in Vision West, and it’s municipal infrastructure needs assessment is among those included on the Vision West website.

“For the most part, it was a good process,” city auditor Jason Vaagen said of Surrey’s experience with Vision West. There have been kinks, though.

“One of the kinks is figuring out where we go from here,” he said.

Surrey is experiencing the types of issues that benefit from a project like Vision West. The town has grown from 275 homes to 500 homes in five years.

“We tried to get ahead of the growth and do this planning,” he said.

Brentrup said Vision West ND is about supporting what people are doing. The more voices joining together, the greater the opportunities for getting attention, she said. The idea isn’t that Vision West will make things happen but it can help groups and communities that want to make things happen.

“One of the important things that Vision West has done is support those efforts that are out there, like child care and housing,” she said. An example was Vision West’s cooperation with the Small Business Development Center and Dickinson State University’s Strom Center to create an online portal to help people start child-care businesses.

Vision West ND is planning a retreat in September in Dickinson for its plan directors. Brentrup said there is the possibility of regional public meetings at the end of the year to let people know how far Vision West ND has come and get them involved in the next phase.