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Nonprofit group looks to buy land near confluence

By LAUREN DONOVAN, Bismarck Tribune
CARTWRIGHT -- A man who owns a piece of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers confluence wants to sell it to a nonprofit foundation to preserve it forever.

Tim Neu of Florida, who inherited a 388-acre piece of the twin riverbottoms, already has signed a contract with the North Dakota-based American Foundation for Wildlife.

The foundation wants to preserve the land because it's historically associated with the Lewis and Clark expedition and to keep housing developments out of view from a new confluence interpretive center on the other side of the Missouri River.

But state law requires that such land sales first be heard by the Natural Areas Acquisition Advisory Commission, which makes a recommendation to the governor. The governor has final say.

The commission's hearing was held Wednesday in tiny Cartwright, where some 50 people converged on the town's only public building, so antique its bathrooms consist of old-fashioned one-holers.

In general terms, the argument against the sale was made by local ranchers and county officials, and the argument for the sale was made by tourism developers and sportsmen.

Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson is chairman of the advisory board. He said the board's decision whether to recommend the sale could come as soon as Tuesday. He'll wait for the McKenzie County Commission -- where the land is located -- to weigh in first.

From comments made by three of five McKenzie commissioners, the commission's decision will be no surprise. McKenzie County Commission chairman Ron Anderson said more than one-third of all land in McKenzie County is already owned by either a federal or state agency, or is part of the reservation, a larger public-land share than any other county.

"We're torn -- willing buyer, willing seller, yes. But don't we stop before it's gone?" Anderson said. "It's really frustrating to watch our county disappear."

The foundation plans to deed the land to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department for public access and hunting, but that didn't make it any easier to swallow.

Anderson said Game and Fish has a lousy record on weed control on acres it owns in the county. Despite lip service paid to the control of noxious weeds, the department gets little done, he said.

Doug Gullickson, a nearby landowner, said taking land away from farming means families disappear.

"Is our future in a big museum or in production agriculture?" he asked.

The Neu land is mainly woodlands that sometimes flood when Lake Sakakawea gets high and backs up, and another 80 acres is under irrigation.

Dan Kalil, chairman of the Williams County Commission, supported the sale.

The new Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center, along with Fort Union and Fort Buford, all are on the Williams County side of the confluence.

That was pointed out by a McKenzie County resident, who said Williams County has benefited from $8 million in historical structures, while all McKenzie County gets is the view shed.

Still, Kalil pointed out that Williams County has always pulled out the checkbook when its neighboring county needs money to fight grasslands issues.

This time, support the other way would be welcome, Kalil implied.

He said that if the confluence were in Montana, someone like Ted Turner would already have bought it up.

"If we don't do something, someone with a bigger checkbook who likes to bowhunt or wants to build a lodge will buy this up forever," Kalil said. "Let's not kid ourselves."

Greg Hennessy, supporter of Fort Union and Fort Buford, said there is no future for production agriculture on the Neu land, either, if a developer buys it and carves it into home sites.

"Then we're out the long-term multiplier for the tourism industry," he said.

Kent Reierson, a local landowner, also supported the sale, which he termed a "once in a lifetime opportunity to preserve a historic piece of land."

He said the riverfront at Bismarck and Mandan is all home sites and no longer has any historic value.

Johnson will still take written comments on the proposal, but those should reach him before Tuesday.

(Reach reporter Lauren Donovan at 888-303-5511 or [email protected])

If you have an opinion on this purchase, get it in to Roger Johnson now. His email is Roger Johnson [email protected]------DM
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