Parts of Southwest N.D. on Cusp of Grain Harvest

Kelly Herberholz made the first cut of this year’s harvest a week ago.

Since then, he and his father, Joe, have slowly been chipping away at their crop throughout central and western Hettinger County. Kelly estimates they have at least 300 acres done and that much of their spring wheat is running between 35 and 45 bushels an acre.

“We need more than that though,” he said with a short laugh.

Southwest North Dakota farmers are on the verge of what appears to be an above-average small grains harvest in a year where prices are well below average.

“There’s some good-looking crop out there. Now if we could just get a price for it,” CHS Southwest Grain General Manager Delane Thom said Friday. “A 50-bushel spring wheat crop is barely a break-even number.”

On Friday, 14 protein spring wheat closed at $3.85 a bushel at the Southwest Grain terminal near Taylor. Milling quality durum was $5.90.

As farmers like Herberholz are quietly chipping away at their spring wheat crop in Hettinger County — where the wheat is furthest along — he and others say and are awaiting higher temperatures this weekend that could turn a crop nearly ready to cut into one that’s falling into the hoppers of combines throughout the area.

“If the sun would come out, I think we’d all go,” Herberholz said.

This weekend — with temperatures forecast in the high 80s and low 90s, with a chance of thunderstorms on Sunday evening — could go a long way toward getting farmers in the field.

Tom Snell, who runs Snell Harvesting of Ellinwood, Kan., has 18 combines in Regent ready to go whenever the wheat is. He said they took a couple of their John Deere harvesters out north of the small town on Friday to try areas for one client.

Snell said he has seen some good crops throughout the Great Plains this summer and while this year’s North Dakota crop isn’t going to be a “bin buster,” he believes it’ll be a good one. And he wants to help get it off the field and into those bins as soon as possible.

“When it’s getting this close we’re no different than a farmer,” Snell said. “As quick as you can, you want to get going.”

Thom said he recently drove through much of southwest North Dakota.

He said crops didn’t fare well along the Highway 12 corridor between Bowman and Lemmon, S.D.

“It’s extremely dry down in that country,” Thom said. “A lot of that crop was rolled up for hay because the hay crop was short. The further north you get of that line, the better it looks.”

He estimates that five major hail events during the summer took out anywhere between 30,000 to 50,000 acres of cropland throughout the area, all the way from Scranton to Glen Ullin and, of course, north to Killdeer, where a devastating storm ripped through the Dunn County city and surrounding countryside on July 10.

Thom said crops north of Interstate 94 are at least three weeks away from being ready to harvest.

“Where it hailed it out, it hailed it out,” he said.

Thom said that in recent weeks, many farmers have been selling year-old wheat at his elevator in what he says is effort to clear storage space.

“There has been a fair amount of old crop movement, of wheat specifically,” he said. “That’s kind of an indicator that there’s got to be a pretty normal crop out there.”

Farmers aren’t the only ones preparing for harvest, however.

Mick Lewton, store manager of West Plains Implement in Dickinson, said his business has done about all it can do to prepare for one of the busiest parts of its year. He said the Case IH ProHarvest support team is also mobilized at the shop.

“It takes a little while to prepare for, but we’re about as good as we’re going to get right now,” Lewton said.

DirecTV Viewers in Western N.D. Still Without ABC Affiliate KMBY

It has been nearly two months and DirecTV customers in western North Dakota are still without local ABC affiliate KBMY.

DirecTV hasn’t been carrying KBMY — which is based in Bismarck — or North Dakota ABC affiliates WDAY in Fargo and WDAZ in Grand Forks since June 1, when contract extension negotiations broke down between the satellite provider and Forum Communications, which owns the three stations as well as The Dickinson Press.

With the blackout about to enter its ninth week, some southwest North Dakota viewers are beginning to express their frustrations.

Dave Holland, a Killdeer businessman who lives in rural Dunn County, said customers are caught in between a power struggle.

“When companies get so large, it’s all about power,” Holland said. “It’s all about controlling the market and the way they do business. The small person, the consumer, is always going to be the loser in these power struggles.”

Holland said his biggest issue with the loss of the channel was during the NBA finals, which aired on ABC in June.

Holland said it took a few calls and some personal negotiating with DirectTV before the satellite provider allowed him to replace the lost KBMY feed with the ABC affiliate feeds from Los Angeles and New York. Still, he has to pay an extra $2.50 a month for those channels and said he didn’t receive a discount in his bill for losing KBMY.

Mari Ossenfort, vice president for broadcasting at Forum Communications and WDAY’s general manager, said DirecTV pays a per-subscriber fee for the rights to broadcast local affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and the CW.

She said DirecTV is unwilling to pay the fee Forum Communications is asking for its ABC affiliates.

Ossenfort said while she can’t share the Forum’s asking price because of confidentiality agreements, she did say “the price we are asking is far less than $2.50 a month.”

“DirecTV refuses to pay us a market-based fee for the right to resell our stations’ signals to its subscribers and is insisting on a variety of other oppressive contractual demands that no other distributor of our stations has demanded,” Ossenfort said.

Nolan Dix, the station manager for KNDC-AM radio in Hettinger, is a DirecTV customer and said the world of broadcasting can be fickle — especially when it comes to broadcast rights.

“It’s just frustrating that somebody holds that much power that you flip on a channel and it’s like, ‘Oh wait, I don’t get it?’” he said.

Jill Eckroth said she and her family have had DirecTV since they moved to Flasher in 2006 and have received local channels since about 2010. She said while DirecTV has always provided them with good service — including hooking up their service following a recent move to a new home outside of the small Morton County town — she said the inability to watch some of her favorite TV shows, including summer hit “The Bachelorette,” has been frustrating.

“We can’t get it unless we have an antenna, but it’s not easy to do that either because it’s not always good reception and service,” Eckroth said.

DirecTV was purchased in 2015 by AT&T — one of the largest companies in the world. Since then, the satellite provider has blacked out markets far beyond Bismarck and Fargo because of prolonged contract negotiations.

On July 16, the satellite provider dropped the NBC and CW affiliates in Boston and the Fox affiliate in Miami. Last year, it had a three-month dispute with the ABC affiliate in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Ossenfort said Forum first proposed a new agreement with DirecTV on Jan. 27. The existing agreement expired March 31, but an extension was granted as the two sides negotiated. That extension was terminated June 1, when DirecTV turned off viewers’ access to the channels.

She said the ABC affiliates owned by Forum cover in the entire state of North Dakota, eastern Montana, northwest Minnesota and northern South Dakota, as well as parts of Canada.

“We understand the viewers’ frustration as we are frustrated also,” Ossenfort said. “The demands DirecTV is making exceed those of any other agreement we have with a distributor. We need to be fair to all our distributors. We have commitments that we need to make to our programmers.”

Attempts made via email to contact AT&T DirecTV for this story were not returned.

‘Pokémon Go’ Craze Strong in Dickinson, Causes Few Problems

Ashley DeWitt and Alyss Kovash walked about Prairie Outpost Park on Thursday afternoon, their heads bobbing up and down between the historic buildings and their smartphones.

Soon, one pointed to the west and they picked up the pace.

After all, they wanted to catch ‘em all. Pokémon that is.

The pair — two of hundreds in Dickinson and millions around the world — were playing the augmented reality video game “Pokémon Go,” a smartphone app that makes users leave their couches and head outside to play.

“It’s addicting,” Kovash said with a laugh.

The game has taken ahold of Dickinson’s gaming community. John Odermann with Badlands Comics and Games estimates hundreds around Dickinson are playing the game. He’s even has seen multiple people of all ages playing “Pokémon Go” in the evenings at certain locations around Dickinson, including Prairie Outpost Park and Dickinson State University.

“You’ll see clusters of teenage kids, college kids and adults just walking around because there’s so many Pokéstops at those two places,” he said. “It’s crazy.”

“Pokémon Go” is a variation on the popular Nintendo video game franchise “Pokémon” (short for Pocket Monsters) which hooked gamers and casual fans 20 years ago and spawned games in multiple formats, a TV show and movies.

The game uses the GPS in a player’s smartphone to place them on an actual map of the city they’re in and has them physically walk around the area to try and find “Pokémon” characters to “catch.”

Multiple Dickinson attractions — such as The Brew coffee shop, the Biesiot Activities Center, most churches and even Walmart — are either “Pokéstops” or “gyms,” which are digital arenas overlaid on the real locations. Players must actually go to these places in order to play the game.

Dickinson law enforcement and DSU security have had a crash course in the game since it debuted earlier this month.

But unlike other cities, where law enforcement have encountered issues with trespassing, Dickinson authorities say they’ve only had a few concerned citizens call in reports of teens and 20-somethings wandering around seemingly aimlessly outside of churches and in parks late at night.

Jack Schulz, director of security at DSU, said on a nice evening, as many as 50 “Pokémon Go” players can be found traversing the campus.

“We haven’t had any issues,” he said. “The only thing we ask them is when they’re driving, don’t be using it, because it’s like texting. Watch what you’re doing.”

Dickinson Police Capt. David Wilkie also urged players to be mindful that someone may be watching them while they’re “hunting” for Pokémon.

“Don’t be surprised if the police show up, because people (in Dickinson) are still a little leery of people doing strange things,” Wilkie said. “In a big city, people are used to seeing people doing weird things. But here in Dickinson, if people are sitting out in front of their house or in front of a business in the middle of the night, they tend to be more on the cautious side than not.”

One thing is for certain though — “Pokémon Go” is doing exactly what it aimed for.

It’s getting gamers off the couch and outside this summer.

DeWitt, a 26-year-old from Gladstone, said she has been playing some version of “Pokémon” since she was a child and owns the first set of “Pokémon” cards. She said she downloaded “Pokémon Go” immediately when she heard it had come out and said enjoys how interactive the game is.

“When you’re little, you’re like, oh I want to be this,” DeWitt said. “Now that it’s out, you’re like, wow, I can actually do this. It’s fun. It’s something to do to pass the time.”

She and Kovash, 19, said they walked from Villard Street to Museum Drive while playing the game Thursday and had more walking to do. Along the way, they met other “Pokémon Go” players.

“There were guys walking in the center of the road,” Kovash said with a laugh. “They’re like, ‘Are you collecting Pokémon? Have you found any?’”

Nathan Jones, a 25-year-old maintenance technician from Dickinson, said there’s a lot of nostalgia in playing the game.

“Growing up as a kid, it’s every little kid’s dream to play ‘Pokémon’ in the real world and now you have the ability to do so,” he said.

Jones said he has been all around Dickinson and even went to Bismarck to play “Pokémon Go.” He and a group of friends are even discussing a trip to Las Vegas in part because of the high volume of Pokéstops along The Strip.

Jones said he’s pleased with how socially interactive the game makes users be, as well as the positivity it brings.

“It gives a good reason to bring people together,” he said. “Most of the time it’s people sharing secrets, or little tips and tricks they’ve learned along the way. There’s a whole ’nother aspect of it.”

Odermann, who is also the head football coach at Trinity High School, called the game “a great opportunity for people to get outside and do some physical activity.”

He also believes the game could bring forth a change in how some video games are played.

“Nintendo, a couple years ago with the Wii, revolutionized gaming,” he said. “This may be another way they’re doing it. You’re not sitting on a couch anymore playing this game. You’re actually out walking around getting some physical exercise.”

Convicted Murderer of Dickinson Woman Dies in New England Prison

NEW ENGLAND — A woman serving life in prison for a 1990 murder of a Dickinson woman died this week at the New England women’s prison, just days after she was denied parole.

Jayta (Christopher) Schmidt, 52, was found unresponsive on Tuesday at the minimum-security Dakota Women’s Correctional and Rehabilitation Center, where she was an inmate.

Schmidt was convicted in 1991 of murdering Dickinson resident Cindy Owen on Feb. 7, 1990. She was serving life in prison and had twice been denied parole, according to court records. The state Parole Board denied her most recent request on Sunday and deferred her next hearing parole until 2031, according to board records.

The North Dakota Highway Patrol stated in a news release that after Schmidt was found, she was airlifted to Bismarck and was pronounced dead at CHI St. Alexius Health. The case remains under investigation by the Highway Patrol, the Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the State Medical Examiner’s Office. The Hettinger County Sheriff’s Office assisted in the case.

Sgt. Chris Messer of the Highway Patrol, an investigator on the case, said he could not confirm how Schmidt died.

Schmidt was 26 years old when she killed Owen, 30, by shooting her three times in the abdominal area with a .44-caliber Ruger magnum, according to court documents.

The murder happened in Owen’s 1979 Plymouth sedan near what then known as Johnston’s Inc., a beverage distributor on 23rd Avenue East. Schmidt then took the car and headed west on Interstate 94 before she was arrested in Golden Valley County.

Owen was once the girlfriend of Schmidt’s brother, William Sandoval.

Her trial and hearings — highlighted by Schmidt’s attitude and the threat of a media blackout — lasted much of 1990 and drew large media attention in western North Dakota leading up to her conviction.

Exec: Davis Refinery Not Affected by Dakota Prairie Refinery Sale

BELFIELD — The company trying to build an oil refinery just three miles from Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Billings County isn’t slowing down its efforts, even after the Dakota Prairie Refinery sold at a loss earlier this week.

Thomas Johnson, chief operating officer of California-based Meridian Energy Group, said Tuesday’s sale of the Dickinson diesel refinery doesn’t affect his company’s goal of building the Davis Refinery, which would process 55,000 barrels of Bakken crude a day.

“We did economic modeling, what our costs are going to be and concluded that we’re going to make some profits there in the Bakken and the Belfield area,” Johnson said.

Tesoro bought the Dakota Prairie Refinery from MDU Resources Group and Calumet Specialty Products, which broke ground on the refinery in 2013 and opened it in May 2015.

Johnson pointed to the Davis Refinery’s efforts to build a refinery that’ll produce gasoline, jet fuel and ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel as the difference between its plans and the Dakota Prairie Refinery, which processed 20,000 barrels of oil into around 8,000 barrels of diesel fuel a day, along with a set of byproducts.

MDU Resources spent $430 million on the refinery and reported that it lost $7.2 million in its first quarter of operations. The refinery’s construction was plagued by cost overruns and construction delays.

Johnson said he was involved in the building of PetroMax Refining, a 25,000-barrel-a-day refinery in Houston that opened last year, and said Meridian is using a similar business model with the Davis Refinery.

“We were successful last year, so we fully anticipate being successful this time,” Johnson said. “The key is not to get into a situation like Dakota Prairie. It’s unfortunate what happened, but it is a good lesson to learn.”

In an effort to rally community support for the Davis Refinery, Meridian is hosting a public gathering at 5 p.m. Tuesday atop Buck Hill, the highest point in Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s South Unit.

Opponents of the refinery have said it will be clearly visible from Buck Hill, and have used that as ammunition to stop it from being built.

“Basically, we want to give everybody kind of an opportunity to see that the view from Buck Hill towards the refinery,” said Adam Williams, Meridian’s director of corporate communications. “We’re going to have some surveyors out and we’ll be floating several large weather balloons at the exact height as the top of the crude tower from grade. We want to do all we can to give people an opportunity to see what the effects will be, or if there’s any visual line of sight from Buck Hill. My guess is it won’t be too visible from the naked eye.”

The Billings County Commission is scheduled to discuss the Davis Refinery for its third straight monthly meeting at 9 a.m. Wednesday. Williams said Meridian CEO Bill Prentice plans to attend the meeting, along with several other of the company’s key players.

Mott-Regent Passes $8.7 Million School Bond Issue by Thinnest of Margins

MOTT — Mott-Regent is getting a new elementary school and making major improvements to its high school.

The district’s school board made that official Monday after a canvassing meeting found that 61 percent of the district’s residents voted in favor of the $8.7 million bond referendum. The project needed a 60 percent “yes” vote to pass.

Viola LaFontaine, the district’s new superintendent who is just settling into her role and doesn’t start full time until July, said she has heard the mixed opinions about the bond passing.

“When you get a vote this close, you know there’s opinions out there,” she said. “I’m hearing different things.”

The bond calls for a 32.01 mill levy increase, or about a $143 increase on $100,000 in residential property. Cropland will see an average tax increase of 93 cents an acre.

A total of 639 district residents in Hettinger, Adams and Stark counties voted on the bond referendum, with only 390 voting yes. It was such a thin margin, the school board waited to receive additional mail-in ballots at Monday’s canvassing meeting to officially announce the results. They received just one mail-in ballot.

Mott-Regent has 240 students in its system.

With the funding, the district will construct a new elementary school, remodel and renovate the high school building, and demolish the old elementary school.

Work could begin immediately, LaFontaine said. Though she and school board president Kevin Roth said the school is likely going to ensure all the legal aspects of the project are shored up.

“We’re not going to rush into anything,” Roth said. “We’re going to do our due diligence and do everything properly. Hopefully everything will come in under bid.”

Consolidated Construction was hired as the contractor at-risk for the project. LaFontaine said the company wants to start soil borings and sight surveys soon.

“Some of those things, I think we can do pretty quickly,” she said.

The school will officially approach the Bank of North Dakota this week about a 2 percent, 20-year loan.

“The main thing is we just move forward from here,” she said. “I’m a very open and willing to listen to people, and am looking to make this a positive move for the Mott-Regent School District. … This is an opportunity for the school to celebrate education.”

The district also canvassed the election of incumbent school board members Garret Swindler and Lucas Greff, as well as newly elected Jeremy Ottmar. All three ran unopposed.

Century-Old Dunn County Church Destroyed in Fire

DUNN CENTER — A lightning strike to its steeple set a 100-year-old church ablaze Monday evening in rural Dunn County.

The Vang Lutheran Church, which maintained a small congregation despite ending regular Sunday services in 2010, was destroyed by the fire.

“You just trust the Lord knows what’s best for the congregation,” said Dave Nodland, one of the church’s few remaining members.

The church opened in 1916 about 6 miles southeast of Dunn Center following eight years of planning and construction. The earliest parishioners were Norwegian immigrants who moved to the area from Renville County, Minn., and the church served generations of central Dunn County Lutheran families, former state Sen. George Nodland said.

“It was basically an icon to the county,” said Halliday Fire Chief Joey Bogers, who responded to the fire.

Dunn County Commission Chairman Reinhard Hauck — who was baptized there — said Tuesday the church only recently officially closed as a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s Western North Dakota Synod.

Hauck and Dave Nodland said because of the building’s deterioration — it was badly damaged by hail a few years ago — families who were stakeholders in the church had started talking about its eventual fate.

“We were still struggling with that,” Dave Nodland said. “I guess the good Lord made the decision for us. … Nobody wanted to see it close because it was a landmark for generations.”

Around 30 firefighters responded to the fire after it was reported around 7:30 p.m., Bogers said, adding he could see the fire from three miles away.

Dave Nodland said he and other congregation members told firefighters to let the church burn after the blaze spread beyond the steeple and fire trucks began running out of water.

“It was at the point where you just couldn’t fight it,” he said.

The church burned to the ground within two hours, Bogers said.

“You think of all the lightning storms there have been in the last 100 years and finally one struck,” Dave Nodland said.

Denise Brew, the county’s emergency manager, called the church fire is “devastating” to locals.

“It’s that one church everybody in the county knew of,” she said. “It was the beacon of the county down there.”

George Nodland said he was baptized at the Vang Lutheran Church and has about 40 relatives buried in the church’s cemetery, which he said will continue to be maintained.

His grandfather was one of the church’s founders, and said services were held at the family’s home while the church was being constructed.

“It has quite a history,” he said.

Shortly before Memorial Day, George Nodland said he visited the church after tidying up his relative’s gravesites.

“I went into the church and looked at some stuff,” he said. “I made a comment to my wife, ‘Somebody should get that stuff out of there.’ It was getting old.”

A few items were spared, Dave Nodland said, including the baptismal fountain, and some pictures and communion items. However, the pews and the altar — which he said the congregation hoped to save — were completely lost in the fire.

George Nodland said he went through a range of emotions Tuesday as he learned more about the fire and the remains of the church his family helped build.

“It means a lot to me,” he said.