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5 things to know today: Rising cases, Median barriers, Inclusion policy, Low bid, Public reservoirs

A select rundown of stories found on InForum.

North Dakota has consistently lagged near the bottom of states in vaccination rates to protect against COVID-19, despite repeated pleas from public health officials.
Reuters stock photo

1. As COVID-19 cases soar, North Dakota lags in taking precautions

North Dakota ranks near the top of states in cumulative COVID-19 infections per capita as the omicron wave rages, near the bottom in vaccination rates and last in mask usage.

Why is North Dakota such a laggard in taking precautions against a virus that has killed more than 2,000 residents and hospitalized thousands more in less than two years?

Public health officials have grappled with ways to increase vaccination rates. One major reason for residents’ indifference, according to surveys by the Census Bureau compiled by QuoteWizard , is skepticism that the coronavirus poses a major threat.

In surveys exploring vaccine hesitancy, 45% of respondents in North Dakota didn't view COVID-19 as a big threat. That ranked second only to Maine, where 50% of residents did not view the virus as a big risk — but 76% of the population in Maine is fully vaccinated, compared to 53.1% in North Dakota.

Read more from The Forum's Patrick Springer

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2. After a year delay, Fargo area project will aim to prevent deadly head-on crashes

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Traffic flows along Interstate 94 in Fargo on Monday, Dec. 20, 2021. Several miles of concrete and cable median barriers were supposed to be installed along the busy stretch of I-94, west of the I-29 interchange in Fargo in 2021. Instead, the work is scheduled for 2022.
David Samson / The Forum


A North Dakota highway safety project that was supposed to be done in 2021 is planned for this year instead, with the goal of reducing the deadliest kind of crashes.

Currently, only a grassy median separates the heavy traffic along a 3-mile stretch of Interstate 94 between Interstate 29 and Sheyenne Street in West Fargo.

In contrast, to the east, concrete median barriers have been in place on I-94 between I-29 and Fargo's border with Moorhead for years.

The barriers, proven to prevent vehicles from traveling through a median and striking others head-on, are part of North Dakota’s Vision Zero traffic safety strategy that hopes to eliminate fatalities and serious injuries from motor vehicle crashes.

A head-on crash near Fargo this week is an example of one that would have been prevented by a median barrier.

Read more from The Forum's Robin Huebner

3. Decision on UND gender inclusion policy could take months

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Armacost is president of UND.

UND’s draft policy on gender inclusion, which has drawn the ire of a religious group as well as some local leaders , will likely remain in draft form for months while university policy makers mull over whether to implement it, rescind it or rework it.

UND President Andrew Armacost, at a press conference on Friday, Jan. 14, said he instructed his staff to slowly proceed with reviewing the policy, as well as to seek additional input on the document, after first hearing concerns from the North Dakota Catholic Conference in October last year.

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The organization issued a letter to its constituents on Tuesday, in which it urged parents to consider whether such a policy would create a hostile environment to Catholic students, as they begin to make decisions on where to attend university. It raised a number of concerns about the policy that included the possibility of students being required to share a dorm room with a student not of the same legal sex, and the possibility of facing punishment for not using a person’s preferred pronouns.

Read more from Forum News Service's Adam Kurtz

4. Fargo Sports Complex bids come in $1 million lower than expected

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Here's a view ofr the exterior of the Fargo Sports Complex planned for southwest Fargo just west of Interstate 29. It would be the largest project in the history of the Fargo Park District. Submitted rendering / JLG Architects

Fargo Park Board commissioners approved bids about $1 million below estimates to construct the indoor Fargo Sports Complex in south Fargo starting this spring.

The bids totaled $77.6 million, coming from 34 subcontractors under the direction of McGough Construction Co., which has an office in Fargo and built the city's highest building downtown when constructing the RDO tower.

The construction of the indoor facility that will hold a turf soccer field, five basketball and volleyball courts, an indoor track, community rooms and new administrative offices for the park district will start in mid-April to May, according to Park District Executive Director Dave Leker.

It's estimated it will take two years to construct the district's largest ever project in the newly developing area in southwest Fargo near Interstate 29 and 45th Street.

Park Commissioner Jerry Rostad said the board has made a number of big decisions over the past months but that awarding the bids "makes it a reality."

"It's a momentous day," he said. "This is a great day for Fargo."

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Read more from The Forum's Barry Amundson

5. South Dakota losing public reservoirs, one torrential rain after another

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Hiddenwood Lake recreation area in Walworth County in north-central South Dakota has been closed since 2018 when heavy rain washed out a bridge connecting a road to the park.
Christopher Vondracek / Forum News Service

A half-hour south of the North Dakota border sits a wooden dock sticking out over a picturesque, tree-lined lake.

Well, it used to be a lake.

Now there's a grassy, weedy pit. And crumbles of an erstwhile bridge and dam, with the park unreachable.

On Thursday, Jan. 13, in Pierre, state Sen. V.J. Smith asked South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Director of Wildlife Tom Kirschenmann about the recreation area's fate.

"We're going to talk about a subject that you and I hold dear ... [a dam] that was washed away about three or four years ago," said Smith, R-Brookings, "What is the prognosis of Lake Hiddenwood?"

It's not the only park land shuttered on state rolls.

The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks agency has requested $5.6 million to replace spillways on Lake Alvin, a ring of a lake east of Harrisburg, and on Newell Lake in Butte County, which has been closed since 2019. 

Read more from Forum News Service's Christopher Vondracek

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