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North Dakota putting chunk of oil money in outdoor fund may be on ballot

BISMARCK - North Dakota voters could decide whether to set aside 5 percent of the state's oil and gas revenues for an outdoor heritage fund, an initiative that's drawing some heavy opposition.

BISMARCK - North Dakota voters could decide whether to set aside 5 percent of the state's oil and gas revenues for an outdoor heritage fund, an initiative that's drawing some heavy opposition.

Proponents of the Clean Water, Lands and Outdoor Heritage Fund today delivered petitions bearing an estimated 36,000 signatures to place the initiated measure on the Nov. 6 election ballot.

Al Jaeger, North Dakota secretary of state, has until Sept. 10 to review the petitions to determine whether there are enough valid signatures to place the measure on the ballot.

By law, at least 26,904 signatures of qualified North Dakota voters are needed to place the measure on the ballot.

"We've had a great response from our signature gatherers," said Stephen Adair of Ducks Unlimited, chairman of the conservation coalition backing the measure.


The state's latest figures project that setting aside 5 percent of oil and gas revenues would raise about $88 million a year for conservation, Adair said.

A nine-member appointed board would decide how to spend the money. Possibilities include clean water projects, such as buffer strips along lakes, rivers and streams; a state version of a conservation reserve program, which would allow haying and grazing; and more parks and recreation areas.

The need for conservation projects is heightened by the unprecedented scale of petroleum development and other influences on the landscape, Adair said.

"I think this will be especially important as we continue to grow and develop the state," he said.

Meanwhile, the president of the North Dakota Chamber of Commerce, the state's largest business group, announced the formation of a coalition that will oppose the conservation proposal.

"The People First Coalition certainly supports the conservation of our state's natural resources for current and future generations," the chamber's Andy Peterson said. "But this proposed measure is too extreme, including taking money from much-needed investments in education, tax relief and infrastructure like roads and flood protection."

Adair, noting that projections call for a $2 billion surplus by the end of June 2013, said all infrastructure projects will be fully funded.

"This is just 5 percent," he said.


Accountability of the committee that will disperse the funds is lacking, Peterson said, with no oversight from either the governor or legislators. The committee will merely issue reports to lawmakers, he said.

The public has overwhelmingly shown support for the proposal, Adair said, in public opinion surveys and in the petition response. Proponents will work with legislators to improve the outdoor heritage fund if it is deemed lacking, Adair said.

Besides Ducks Unlimited, other proponents of the outdoor heritage fund include The Nature Conservancy, Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, North Dakota Natural Resources Trust and Pheasants Forever.

Besides the state chamber, groups opposing the proposed measure include the North Dakota Farm Bureau, North Dakota Stockmen's Association, Landowners Association of North Dakota, North Dakota Petroleum Council, Lignite Energy Council and North Dakota Taxpayers Association.

Same-sex marriage vote effort ends

FARGO - Backers of a measure to overturn North Dakota's ban on gay marriage will sit out the 2012 election.

Lenny Tweeden of Fargo, who earlier was trying to collect petition signatures to put an amendment to allow gay marriage on the fall ballot, has decided to try in 2014.

Voters overwhelmingly decided in 2004 to amend the North Dakota Constitution to ban gay marriage.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522

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