Sen. John Hoeven had a pretty full day on Friday in the Lake Region.
It started at about 9 a.m. after he flew into town with his staff and arrived at City Hall to meet with area officials and representatives from BNSF railroad and Amtrak to receive a briefing on the project that would raise the rail line near Churchs Ferry.
He was told by BNSF official Brian J. Sweeney that the project will be completed in two, possibly three phases and that phase one was well under way. By the end of November, if all goes well with the weather. “By freeze up, crews that are working on the rail now would be finished with raising the rail five feet and shoring it up to ensure continued service on the line that runs from Minot to Grand Forks and services Amtrak,” Sweeney said.
Amtrak service, however, will be interrupted for a period of approximately three weeks, he was told, because of the construction, but Amtrak had already taken that into consideration and would be providing bus service from Minot to Fargo and Fargo to Minot during that period. “It’s all figured in on the ticketing and we will make sure that people get to their destinations so we can continue service,” Derrik James, from Amtrak said.
Hoeven asked several questions and encouraged input from Randy Heck from BTR Farmers Co-op who asked about the short line up to Cando and how they would prioritize freight once they started using that line for freight again. “Would grain be relegated to third on the list of priorities and we have to wait even longer for our comodities?” he asked.
He explained that now it was often frustrating when Amtrak was late and they had to wait until Amtrak had gone before they could run their cars to market. Delays cost money.
Camp Gilbert C. Grafton
From Devils Lake’s City Hall Hoeven traveled to Camp Grafton for a ribbon cutting ceremony for a newly remodeled and expanded Readiness Center.
On hand for the ceremony were several dignitaries including Lt. Governor Drew Wrigley standing in for Governor Jack Dalrymple who was unable to attend. The $11.8 million project includes the alteration of 11,500 square feet of the original building and a 41,178 square foot addition.
“The North Dakota National Guard and Guard units across the country are being asked to expand their missions and perform additional duties both here at home and abroad,” said Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley, who attended today’s ceremony. “This new addition to the Camp Grafton Readiness Center will provide our Guardsmen with the training they need to prepare for the missions of the future and to be ready for whatever they are called on to do in support of our state and nation.”
Page 2 of 3 - The facility will house the 136th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, the 3662nd Maintenance Company Component Repair Company, and the Camp Grafton Annual Training Site Detachment. The Addition/Alteration project will provide units with administration, classroom, unit supply, kitchen, physical fitness, weapons vaults, and locker room space and a 14,850 square foot unheated enclosed vehicle storage area.
“The dedication symbolizes the growth and change of the ND National Guard as it continues to expand to meet training needs and mission growth as it serves the state and the nation’s Guard,” said Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, North Dakota adjutant general. “I thank all who have been involved in the process of making this new building come to fruition as it will provide training for our future leaders both in the ND National Guard as well as troops across the entire nation.”
The Annual Training Site Detachment operates, manages and administers Camp Grafton Training Center resources to provide year-round customer service to assigned, attached, and transient or tenant units/organizations. The Annual Training Site commander is Col. Dave Rickford and the senior NCO is Command Sgt. Maj. Orville Wang.
Spirit Lake Social Services
From Camp Grafton with a quick stop for he and his staff to catch lunch, Sen. Hoeven made his way through the construction on Highway 57 to the Spirit Lake Casino and a meeting with the Tribal Chairman Roger Yankton, the Tribal Council from Spirit Lake and representatives from social services, the tribal courts, BIA and IHS.
Hoeven was in Spirit Lake because of ongoing and unaddressed incidents of child abuse and neglect, staffing deficiencies and inadequate progress on the BIA’s corrective action plan. Hoeven said failure to address these issues by a Sept. 10 review of the tribe’s social services program could result in the BIA rescinding Spirit Lake’s authority to administer social services on the reservation under the Indian Self Determination Act.
Hoeven said his meeting with Yankton and the officials was intended to ensure their full cooperation in working to remedy flaws in the tribe’s administration of social service programs, specifically with regard to removing children from unsafe environments, securing background checks for placing children in foster care and developing procedures to ensure foster homes are safe.
Each time it was stated by a person around the table that more funding was needed to help with staffing problems Hoeven emphasized the need for transparency, record keeping, follow up and accountability.
He emphasized it five or six times.
Mark Little Owl
Mark Little Owl did the lions share of the talking, reporting to the Senator what he had seen accomplished in his short four or five weeks on the job.
Page 3 of 3 - Little Owl will head the Social Services Department for the Tribe and made a commitment to staying with the program for a length of time to give some continuity and consistency. His emphasis has been on professionalism and hiring qualified individuals to accomplish the work they need to for the tribe and its children.
He outlined the numerous steps he had taken to bring transparency, accountabilty and proper documentation to the department.
Sue Settles, who is the human services chief in the BIA’s Office of Indian Services in Washington D.C., was part of the “strike team” sent to the reservation on Monday Sept. 3 to consult with tribal officials about deficiencies in the social services program and improvements needed. She also spoke at length with the Senator outlining what she has observed in the week she had spent on the reservation.
The senator emphasized that the tribe, if it is to continue in charge of social services, must have people on staff to receive child abuse reports. The phones must be answered. Staff must be trained and administrators involved in delivering services must also be trained.
He offered to help speed up the process for background checks for potential foster homes for children.
Some of the issues that were mentioned at Friday’s meeting were tribal court funding, health education inadequacies, dealing with juveniles, the need for a traditional parenting program, an in patient culturally sensitive facility, whole-family well-briety program needs, mental health issues - the list went on at length.
“The social fabric of our people has been affected by all of this and nearly 20 years of flooding problems has contributed to the problems,” Yankton said.
He emphasized his willingness to work to improve the situation for everyone concerned.