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Friends of Lake Sakakawea News Update

by Jon Mitzel

News of Interest
The Friends of Lake Sakakawea Board and Annual Meeting will be Thursday, April 26, at 2 p.m. at the Spillway Cafe in Riverdale. Come to find out more about the people who work hard year-long on behalf of all the stakeholders.

Do you have a project that would enhance the experiences on the lake? Apply for funding here.
Do you know of someone worthy of The Tolly award? Submit here.

News of Interest
Deepwater Bay to see some changes
Where are shoreline access areas?
Recreation part of vibrant communities
What did we say the the Corps this week?
26,000 acres near lake could support oil drilling
Judge rules Corps responsible for flooding
Who owns what minerals?

Deepwater Bay gets new leasor
BHG Newspapers

A popular fishing spot on the northern end of the county may be gaining some new services and new management in the near future, as commissioners proceed with a lease agreement for the recreation area.

At its April 3 meeting, the McLean County Commission agreed to pursue an agreement with Indian Hills owners Kelly and Dale Sorge, who are hoping to take over management of the Deepwater Creek Recreation Area. Kelly Sorge presented her proposal to the McLean County Park board earlier that morning, receiving a recommendation of approval on a long-term lease of the property.

“Typically the Corps of Engineers likes to do a 20 or 25 year lease, at least,” Kelly Sorge said to the park board.

Sorge said she often sends fishermen visiting Indian Hills to Deepwater Creek, and that she often is questioned as to why the site consists of little more than a boat dock.

“A long time ago, (The Corps) took water lines and the picnic shelter out, took electrical out, basically anything that would be nice for camping,” Sorge said. “All that was left was a vault toilet and a courtesy dock.”

Sorge said there is a dire need for campsites in North Dakota and that she would like to see Deepwater Creek help fill that need. Sorge said she plans to put in campsites, a fish-cleaning station for the anglers, dumpsters, electricity and water and on-site management.

“We would likely have a worker in a camper stationed there every year,” Sorge said. “And it would be their job to take care of the fish-cleaning station and the bathrooms and everything.”

Park board members expressed agreement that the area needs to be taken care of and that it could be a positive addition to McLean County recreation.

“It’s just sad the way it looks now,” Park board member Curt Olson said.

The park board recommended approval of a lease agreement with Indian Hills and the Corps of Engineers, setting the wheels in motion for the county commission meeting later that morning. County Commissioners reviewed Sorge’s proposal during their regular meeting, evaluating the county’s obligation in the agreement.
County Commissioner Steve Lee questioned whether the county could find itself in a tough spot if Sorge wanted to end the lease early. County Auditor Les Korgel said he would suggest that State’s Attorney Ladd Erickson works on the agreement with Sorge and the Corps of Engineers to ensure the county is protected.

“We want to find a way to ensure that if they stop taking care of it in 15 years, we aren’t obligated to spend taxpayer money,” Commissioner Doug Krebsbach said.
The commission approved a motion to enter into a lease with Sorge, with Erickson and Korgel overseeing details of the agreement. Sorge said the lease request would be sent to the Army Corps of Engineers for review and expected to be returned to the county for final approval between six and 12 months.

Sorge said she worked with an engineer to draw up preliminary plans and that she expected between 30 and 40 camping sites at Deepwater Creek, if the agreement is approved.

11 shoreline areas designated for vehicles
Corps release

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announces that the public is welcome to use vehicles on the shoreline of 11 designated areas around Lake Sakakawea.

The Corps encourages the public to use these areas to drive vehicles to the shoreline for fishing and other day use activities. These areas are in addition to all the current recreation areas around the lake to accommodate the shore anglers or day-use visitors who are hindered by the distance of shoreline between normal pool and the existing water’s edge.

Vehicles should be used for transporting people and gear associated with day-use recreation activities to and from the water’s edge. The public is prohibited from driving ATV’s, digging or collecting artifacts, camping, or having open fires. Rules signs are posted at the entrance to these areas.

Additional white or brown fiberglass signs may be posted, stating “No Motor Vehicles” aligned perpendicular to the water’s edge marking the parameters of the shoreline access areas. Shore anglers or day-use visitors can also access the shoreline at any existing boat ramp area. Vehicular operation in these areas is restricted within designated parking areas.

“In some instances, shoreline access areas are not authorized due to safety concerns, terrain conditions that limit drivable access, concerns with effects on endangered species, or cultural resources,” said Nathan Busche, natural resources specialist.

The majority of the shoreline along Lake Sakakawea is open to the public via walk-in access, Busche said. Some areas may be closed due to nesting of threatened and endangered species If this occurs those areas will be posted with signage.

Shoreline access points for vehicles for the 2018 season are: Dead man’s Bay (west Wolf Creek), Wolf Creek WMA- East Area, Wolf Creek low water ramp area, Deepwater Creek (low water), Fish & Camp Court (Deepwater Bay area), Four Bears, Renner Bay, Beulah Bay (Pebble Beach), Garrison (Near Owl Site), Pouch Point Recreation Area, Beaver Creek (low water).

Should you have further questions please contact: Nathan Busche, Natural Resource Specialist/Park Ranger, U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, Garrison Project. Phone: 701-654-7757, email:

Recreation part of vibrant communities
Opinion from the North Dakota Chapter of The Wildlife Society and the North Dakota Wildlife Federation

A key feature of Governor Burgum’s Main Street Initiative is Healthy Vibrant Communities. In North Dakota, outdoor recreation in our prairies, lakes and wetlands, rivers and streams, and badlands, plays a major role in our quality of life and economic well-being, particularly in our many smaller communities.

Over one-half of our citizens participate in the great variety of outdoor activities that contribute to the social and economic well-being of our small communities. The signs tell the story. It’s hard to drive through a small community without seeing the signs welcoming hunters and anglers, bikers, campers, hikers etc. The owners of cafes, bars, grocery stores, and motels all recognize the value of those outdoor users to the success of their businesses.

But the resources to support healthy small communities are declining, access is becoming more difficult and conversion of our outdoor resources to other uses negatively impacts Main Street across North Dakota.

Therefore, as a part of the Governor’s Main Street Initiative the state has an obligation to its communities to develop specific programs that maintain and improve our valuable outdoor resources ensuring that outdoor recreation activities will continue to be part of the social and economic well-being of our small communities.

Friends' testimony at recent Corps meeting
Annual Operating Plan comments, April 18, 2018

Good Evening, I'm Michael Gunsch, Vice Chairman of the Friends of Lake Sakakawea. I come to you tonight representing cities, chambers, communities around the lake, fishermen, sailors, cabin owners and water management boards.

Our message tonight is simple: 1) conservation, 2) caution with controlling above average runoff, 3) preservation of our greatest resource through controlled and careful energy development, and 4) awareness of the impact of Aquatic Nuisance Species.

Thankfully the past few years have been kind to us in runoff and water levels. That could change in a season, which we know you're aware of and conservation remains an important management consideration.

This year, one must carefully consider flood risks as the reservoir fills with near or above 2011 mountain snowmelt, and the potential for heavy spring and summer rains unknown. While we have learned from the past that does not lessen the risks, only how they might be managed. In short be prepared!

Today our immediate and continued concerns are related to potential oil spills, leaks or blowouts that will impact water quality in Lake Sakakawea. There needs to be more attention paid to protecting our shoreline and direct tributaries. No spill is ever acceptable and unfortunately, we know a serious spill will occur someday, as there have already been close calls. These impacts can be prevented or mitigated by proper siting measures and spill controls through best design practices.

ANS is another major concern and could infiltrate our lake and adversely impact the power generation of the plant, as well as local water supplies. The sky may not be falling, but ignoring the potential risks and harmful effects of this threat is not an option, we're concerned and we hope you are too.

Our concerns for the status and quality of this great resource, Lake Sakakawea and the Missouri River system, have not gone away and never will.

As always, we appreciate the opportunity to work with you for all our stakeholders. Thank you.

Large oil drilling unit proposed to be near lake
Bismarck Tribune


XTO Energy proposes to develop more than 26,000 acres near Lake Sakakawea as one large drilling unit, a plan the company says will allow oil wells to be located farther away from the lake.

Company representatives said Wednesday that developing the oil resources as one large unit rather than smaller individual spacing units will allow more oil to be recovered while reducing impacts to the sensitive terrain.

“A more comprehensive plan would reduce surface disturbance, reduce truck traffic and also reduce flaring,” Deni Wieland, an engineer for XTO Energy, said during a North Dakota Oil and Gas Division hearing.

But representatives from Petrogulf Corp., one of an estimated 150 working interest owners within the proposed unit, objected to the proposal, known as the Hofflund-Bakken Unit.

Doug McLeod, president of Petrogulf, said variability of geology in that area makes developing the resources as one unit unfair.

McLeod and others from Petrogulf suggested that XTO instead develop the area as smaller units.

Oil and Gas Division officials requested additional information from XTO during the more than five-hour hearing and will make a recommendation to the North Dakota Industrial Commission, led by Gov. Doug Burgum.

The proposal needs approval from 55 percent of royalty owners and working interest owners in the unit. The level of support the proposal currently has was not presented during Wednesday’s hearing.

Attorney Lawrence Bender, representing XTO, estimated the unit has about 3,000 royalty owners.

Lake Sakakawea covers a large portion of the proposed unit, located in Williams and McKenzie counties.

Developing the area as one large unit provides greater flexibility for well pad locations and allows facilities to be centralized, reducing impacts to the environment, Wieland said.

XTO and regulatory agencies prefer to locate oil wells at least a half-mile away from Lake Sakakawea, he said. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has said it will not allow XTO to drill additional wells from existing well pads that are closer to the lake, according to Wieland.

XTO representatives also said developing the area as a unit will reduce waste and allow additional oil to be recovered.

Royalties from mineral tracts under Lake Sakakawea that are in dispute due to ongoing litigation or recent state legislation would be held in suspense until the disputes are resolved, said Teresia McGinnis, XTO division landman.

The company does not yet have specific well pad locations or plans for developing the unit, Wieland said. If the project is approved, XTO would begin drilling with one rig in the unit as soon as possible and most likely dedicate two to three rigs to the unit, he said.

If approved, the Hofflund-Bakken Unit would be the second largest oil drilling unit in North Dakota, behind the Corral Creek-Bakken Unit, a 30,000-acre development near Killdeer that includes Little Missouri State Park.

In 2014, QEP Resources received approval from the Industrial Commission for the 25,000-acre Grail-Bakken Unit but later withdrew its application.

Director of Mineral Resources Lynn Helms said regulators evaluate whether a unit proposal would prevent waste and whether the royalty distribution formula is just and equitable. In addition, regulators consider whether the unit will reduce the footprint on the land or provide other benefits, Helms said.
 Judge says Corps responsible for flooding expense
Iowa Public Radio

The Missouri River has seen several devastating floods in the past decade. Now, a federal judge says the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for potentially hundreds of millions of dollars worth of property damage over how it handled some of these floods. The ruling has intensified a debate about how best to manage the river that runs from Montana to Missouri.


A sign on the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge over the Missouri River between Council Bluffs, Iowa and Omaha, Nebraska calls the Big Muddy “forever changed by the power of humans.”

Decades ago, directed by Congress, the Army Corps of Engineers constructed a system of dams and reservoirs to accommodate more barge traffic and allow people to develop land in the natural floodplain. But it also destroyed habitat for some wildlife.

“The Missouri River is the longest river in the United States and it is also the most highly modified,” says Marian Maas with the Nebraska Wildlife Federation.
Maas and others say turning that land into natural floodplain would reduce the potential for flood damage.

“There is great holding capacity in backwaters,” Maas says.

But there are a lot of people who live and farm along the river who don’t want to lose their land.

In 2004, things changed. The Army Corps changed how it managed the river, making habitat for endangered species, specifically two birds and a fish, more of a priority than flood control.

“Flood control was no longer the dominant function of the management of the river,” says Sidney, Iowa-area farmer Leo Ettleman. “The flood control constraints got changed and we saw immediate negative impacts.”

So, Ettleman and hundreds of other farmers and business owners along the river sued the Army Corps of Engineers. They allege the actions contributed to five floods along the river since 2007.

The Corps had notched dikes and reopened historic chutes to allow more water to flow and restore habitat. But the judge ruled this allowed the river to meander and erode the bank, which contributed to devastating floods.

“I am very encouraged by this ruling and I do hope the Army Corps uses this an opportunity to go back, review and correct the problematic policies they have in the past,” says U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa).

Ernst was a member of the National Guard and assisted with recovery efforts during the massive flood of 2011. A spokesman for the Corps says they can’t comment because the litigation is not over, but it will continue to enforce the laws of the land.

“There would be significantly less damage if there had been places for the water to go,” says Brad Walker who recently retired as the Executive Director of Missouri River Coalition for the Environment.

Walker says the judge’s decision was misguided and the work that was being done to restore the natural floodplain would have helped flood control and landowners are partly to blame.

For now, the judge is determining the exact monetary damages from floods that have become common along this river forever changed by the power of humans.

Who owns what minerals?
Bismarck Tribune

Mineral owners and their attorneys will be busy for the next two months reviewing a new study of the historical channel of the Missouri River, a report that aims to resolve disputes over oil and gas ownership.

Consultant Wenck Associates presented Tuesday an overview of its study of the ordinary high water mark of the Missouri River as it existed before the construction of the Garrison Dam, which created Lake Sakakawea.

The full survey and supporting materials will be made public by Friday at

The study, ordered by the Legislature, investigated the accuracy of the 1950s river survey conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Differences between the Corps survey and a 2009 survey used by the Department of Trust Lands have caused multiple parties to claim ownership of the same minerals, in some cases leading to lawsuits.

The consultant firm used aerial photos, topographical maps, river flow data, information from the Corps and other sources to conduct the survey, said Joel Toso, senior water resources engineer for Wenck.

The review area starts at New Town, excluding the Fort Berthold Reservation, and extends about 9 river miles upstream from Williston.

Wenck’s review shows that North Dakota owns 10,402 more acres than the Corps survey showed.

By comparison, North Dakota owns an estimated 25,000 more acres when comparing the 2009 survey with the Corps survey, according to a fiscal note prepared by the Department of Trust Lands during the legislative session.

The public will be able to review the consultant’s findings in detail and provide comments to the North Dakota Industrial Commission.

“There are a lot of tracts and quarter sections along there that gain and lose,” said Director of Mineral Resources Lynn Helms. “I expect people to challenge the determination, particularly if they’re losing acres.”

The public will have until June 20 to submit written comments. The public also can comment during an all-day public hearing on June 26 in Bismarck. More information about how to comment is expected to be released by Friday.

Fargo attorney Josh Swanson attended Tuesday’s presentation with clients who have a lawsuit on hold until the survey is adopted. They’re eager to see how their minerals near Williston would be affected by the survey, but were pleased to hear the consultant’s methodology.

“We feel a little bit of relief,” Swanson said.

Swanson said he expects he and other attorneys will get a lot of calls in the coming weeks, particularly from mineral owners who may lose minerals under the firm’s survey.

“I wouldn't anticipate that those mineral owners would just go quietly into the night,” he said.

Sen. Kelly Armstrong, R-Dickinson, who sponsored the bill that led to the study, said he hadn’t seen the full results yet, but his initial reaction is the consultant did a thorough review.

“The key takeaway from this is making sure private mineral owners get their minerals back,” Armstrong said. “The important thing for the industry is finally they get some certainty.”

The Department of Trust Lands is waiting for the review to be posted online to analyze it and compare to the 2009 study completed by Bartlett and West, said North Dakota Land Commissioner Jodi Smith.

The consultant did not compare its findings with the 2009 study, Toso said.

Meanwhile, a lawsuit that challenges the legislation continues in Cass County District Court. The case filed by Rep. Marvin Nelson, D-Rolla, former Republican governor candidate Paul Sorum and others challenges the constitutionality of the law and argues the state attempts to “give away” nearly $2 billion in state-owned mineral rights.

A hearing on a preliminary injunction, which could affect the survey review process, is scheduled for April 30 in Fargo.