9/7/2005 – Editorials



By Richard Peterson

There’s a commercial being aired on the radio extolling the virtues of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad and how it is keeping North Dakota’s economy "on track." I’m surprised the railroad is wasting its money on this public relations campaign because anyone who pays any attention whatsoever to North Dakota news knows the railroad’s version of its role in the state’s economy is pure fiction. It never has been a good corporate neighbor and it never will be. Burlington Northern has always been an economic predator in North Dakota and it probably always will be.
North Dakota farmers are getting less from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway (BNSF), but are paying the largest railroad in the state more money, says Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson.
"Fewer cars are available, and the costs of shipping grain are up significantly in many cases," Johnson said last week. "Just a few short years after BNSF strongly encouraged shippers to build facilities capable of loading 52-car trains, the railroad is now penalizing those same shippers."
Johnson was among state officials and agricultural leaders who signed a letter to BNSF, complaining that the railroad deliberately developed pricing and scheduling policies that resulted in the availability of fewer grain cars and consequently higher prices.
Other signers included Gov. John Hoeven, Public Service Commissioners Tony Clark, Kevin Cramer and Susan Wefald, and the North Dakota Barley Council, the North Dakota Corn Growers Association, the North Dakota Corn Utilization Council, the North Dakota Dry Pea and Lentil Association, the North Dakota Farm Bureau, the North Dakota Farmers Union, the North Dakota Grain Dealers Association, the North Dakota Grain Growers Association, the US Durum Growers Association and the North Dakota Wheat Commission.
This is one issue upon which Republicans and Democrats are in total agreement. The railroad is no friend of North Dakota or its inhabitants.
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A letter in last week’s newspaper concerning the Devils Lake Outlet contained some statements that were not entirely correct.
The writer implies that drainage north of Devils Lake is the cause of the lake’s rise. Drainage aggravates the problem, but it is definitely not the cause. Increased rainfall is the cause. If every drain north of Devils Lake were plugged, all that would be accomplished is that the flood would be spread to thousands of acres north of the lake. Those plugged drains would eventually overflow and the water would find its way to the lake anyway.
The only thing accomplished would be to spread the flood over productive farmland.
The lake overflowed several times before the white man established any drains. I repeat: drainage is not the cause of the problem.
The writer implies that development was allowed on the lakebed. That is correct. A good portion of the city of Devils Lake is built on the lakebed.
But the people who built there had no idea they were in danger. When settlement began here in 1883 the people who came here experienced nothing but the lake dropping. Nobody had any idea the lake would rise again. In
1954 when Minnewaukan’s lagoon was built, it was put on the lakebed. Not even the engineers had any idea the lake would come back. That lagoon is now under about 20 feet of water. You have to remember that this is the FIRST TIME the lake has flooded in recorded history.
The jury is still out on the "irrigation fiasco" the letter writer mentioned. This is an experiment and it could still prove to be a valuable use of the water. One year is not enough time to arrive at the conclusion that it’s a failure.
The writer is correct in saying the state’s outlet to Devils Lake is ineffective. But it is not poorly designed, nor shoddily built, as she maintains. The outlet is a marvel of engineering and there is no question in my mind that it could remove 100 cubic feet per second of Devils Lake water.
The reason it is ineffective is because of the 300 milligrams per liter
(mgl) sulfate restriction placed upon it by the State Health Department.
Water in Devils Lake has a relatively high sulfate content, about 500 mgl, about five times what the water in the Sheyenne River contains. So there has to be sufficient water in the Sheyenne to blend with the Devils Lake water so it doesn’t go over 300 mgl.
This restriction is in place because we don’t want to make the water downstream so full of sulfates it can’t be treated and used for drinking water. Three hundred mgl would be treatable.
It is my contention there would be only a handful of days in a year during which conditions will be exactly right so 100 cfs could be discharged from the lake. Discharges are more likely to be 20 cfs or less. The outlet is unlikely to take more than an inch off the lake in a year.
The letter writer is correct in maintaining that it’s a $28 million boondoggle that will provide no flood relief. I’ve been saying that for more than two years but nobody pays any attention to a silly little newspaper editor in Minnewaukan, North Dakota.


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