This is Up and Down, where we give a brief thumbs up or thumbs down on the issues from the past week.
The culvert that washed out from under a highway on the Standing Rock Reservation last month, killing two South Dakota residents, had been identified for replacement seven years ago. Project costs and a lack of funding delayed the culvert replacement, along with many other projects. The Bureau of Indian Affairs estimates the deferred maintenance backlog nationwide would cost $280 million to repair. The federal government ought to identify a plan to address the backlog before more lives are lost.
The North Dakota Oil and Gas Research Council took an initial step last week to commission a study on lightning strikes at saltwater disposal wells. Lightning-related fires at oilfield sites pose environmental and safety risks and are stressing rural fire departments. Researching this issue would be a good use of the research fund, which comes from oil taxes.
It’s been a year since Olivia Lone Bear’s body was found submerged in Lake Sakakawea on the Fort Berthold Reservation, but no information has been released about the death investigation. It’s understandable that the FBI doesn’t want to jeopardize the case. But it would ease frustrations if the agency provided at least some basic information to assure the public her disappearance and death are being actively investigated. To date, the FBI has not confirmed whether a crime was committed and has declined to release a report of death.
About 21,000 North Dakotans will see more affordable health insurance premiums after a new state program was recently approved by the federal government. The state’s reinsurance program will help residents who don’t have insurance through their employer, such as small business owners, farmers and ranchers. The program is estimated to reduce costs for those who purchase plans on the individual market by 8% to 20%.
Three years after a high-profile pipeline fight, the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation is now home to a solar farm that sends more electricity back through the grid than any other sun-powered generator in the state. The project came to be after a nonprofit known for facilitating solar projects around the world brought a mobile solar unit to the protest camp in 2016. One reason for the interest in solar is the technology’s potential to improve the economic outlook for tribal members.