A dramatic decade: Top North Dakota stories of the decade
BISMARCK -- Every decade brings change, but the past 10 years have dramatically altered the economic, political and social fabric of North Dakota. Oil wells sit on what used to be rural farmland, Republicans occupy once-reliably Democratic seats in Congress, and the state’s largest university has a new team name. Here are many of the top North Dakota stories of the 2010s.
The oil boom in North Dakota’s Bakken shale formation captured the country's attention and caused surges in population, traffic, crime and wealth to western North Dakota.
Most North Dakotans think of 2012-2015 when oil prices were high as the peak of the boom, but the state is producing more oil now than ever — more than 1.5 million barrels per day in October 2019.
The boom created thousands of jobs in the western part of the state and fueled rapid population growth in Williston and Watford City. The swift surge in population also brought more infrastructural development to the area, but not nearly enough to keep up with demand for housing.
The boom also brought more crime to the region. North Dakota and Montana counties within the Bakken saw their violent crime rate increase by 23% between 2006 and 2012, according to Bureau of Justice Statistics.
The state has realized a tremendous economic benefit from the oil boom. Thirty percent of the tax revenue derived from oil and gas production goes to the state’s Legacy Fund, which was worth more than $6.5 billion at the end of October, according to state Treasurer Kelly Schmidt.
Protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline attracted people from all over the world in 2016 and brought months of national attention to central North Dakota tribal lands.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe wanted to prevent the construction of a portion of the 1,172-mile underground pipeline that crossed beneath the Missouri River near the northern tip of the tribe’s reservation.
Tribal members worried a pipeline spill could affect their water supply, and protesters in the #NoDAPL movement called themselves “water protectors.”
Clashes between protesters and police became commonplace during the height of the protests in late 2016. Police arrested hundreds, including then-Standing Rock Tribal Chairman David Archambault.
Construction of the controversial part of the pipeline was eventually completed after President Donald Trump signed an executive order in January 2017 that green-lighted the project’s approval by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Fargo tech mogul Doug Burgum won the governorship in 2016 after a surprising defeat of establishment candidate Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem in the Republican primary election.
His goal to “reinvent” state government resonated with many voters, who sent him to the governor’s residence by an overwhelming margin in the general election. He criticized the state’s “good old boy” party establishment during the campaign for causing a budgetary bind and frittering away the state’s oil income. The rhetoric marked the beginning of a tenuous relationship with state lawmakers.
Burgum announced last November his plan to run for another four-year term in 2020.
Ag crisis develops
Ag incomes started the decade at record levels, but that changed in 2013. By the end of the decade, many farmers were worse off than when they started.
Stress in the agriculture markets meant farmers sold corn, wheat, sunflowers and other core North Dakota agricultural products for much less than they did earlier in the decade.
A brutal 2019 harvest season has put many North Dakota farmers at wit’s end. An exceptionally wet spring, a dry summer and flood-filled fall has caused major crop losses throughout the state.
Even as the curtains close on the decade, some farmers are working to get their crops off in cold temperatures due to weather-related delays during the 2019 season.
Fight over Fighting Sioux
The long battle over the University of North Dakota's Fighting Sioux nickname came to a close after a see-saw debate that was ultimately decided by voters in 2012.
In 2005, the NCAA announced plans to end the use of American Indian nicknames and imagery, setting into motion years of back and forth that included a failed attempt to secure nickname support from both North Dakota Sioux tribes -- Spirit Lake voted to keep the name, Standing Rock did not -- and a law passed by the North Dakota Legislature that required UND to remain the Fighting Sioux.
In the end, the public voted overwhelmingly to discard the name on a 2012 referendum, and the state Board of Higher Education followed suit.
A replacement nickname, “Fighting Hawks,” beat out other contenders in a vote of students, faculty and alumni and was instituted in 2015.
Tommy Bearson found dead
North Dakota State University freshman Tommy Bearson was found dead in an RV sales lot days after he mysteriously went missing in 2014. The 18-year-old’s homicide still remains unsolved and little more is known publicly about the teenager’s death five years after the fact.
A standout high school basketball player from Sartell, Minn., Bearson was last seen in the early hours of Sept. 20, 2014 at a house party near the NDSU campus. Bearson’s body was found three days later in the Moorhead RV lot following a police tip. A death record revealed that Bearson died of asphyxia, meaning he was somehow deprived of oxygen until he died.
North Dakota’s Congressional delegation has been a revolving door since the beginning of the decade, with five different senators and four different representatives having served in the three-member group since 2010.
Two retirements and one defeat of three Democratic fixtures, Sens. Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan and Rep. Earl Pomeroy, left voids that Republicans filled within two election cycles. Former governor John Hoeven easily won Dorgan’s seat in 2012 to become the first Republican senator to represent the state since 1987. Democrat Heidi Heitkamp won one term in the Senate in 2012 but lost in a contentious race to former Rep. Kevin Cramer in 2018.
Longtime Democratic Rep. Earl Pomeroy lost to Republican challenger Rick Berg, and the seat has been held by Republicans ever since.
The current delegation consists of Sens. John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer and Rep. Kelly Armstrong.
The horrifying murder of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind shook Fargo and the state to its core in 2017.
Brooke Lynn Crews lured the 22-year-old pregnant woman into her Fargo apartment, rendered her unconscious and sliced open Greywind’s womb to deliver a healthy baby girl while killing the mother in the process.
Crews pleaded guilty to the grisly crime and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, while her boyfriend, William Hoehn, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his role in hiding the child from investigators.
A derailed oil tanker train exploded outside of Casselton in 2013, sending a giant toxic cloud airborne and heightening concerns about the safety of oil transported by rail.
When the train collided with grain cars that had derailed on the perpendicular tracks, 18 oil tank cars ruptured, resulting in the massive explosion.
Nobody was injured, but the incident caused an estimated $6.1 million in damages and more than 1,400 people were voluntarily evacuated from Casselton about 20 miles west of Fargo.
The enduring success of the NDSU football team stands out as one of the few constants during a decade that saw much change.
NDSU has trounced the competition at the NCAA’s FCS level with championships in seven of the past eight years. During that streak, the team won 112 of its 120 games and finished two seasons undefeated. The program has also produced six NFL draft picks and two head coaches who took competitive jobs at the highest level of college football.
The program’s shining jewel, Carson Wentz, is regarded as one of the elite quarterbacks in the league. The Bismarck native was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles with the 2nd pick in the 2016 draft.
The Bison have their eye on the title again this year after finishing the regular season without a loss.
Grand Forks’ Lamoureux twins brought home the gold for Team USA at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Former UND hockey standouts Monique Lamoureux-Morando and Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson carried the women’s national team to the pinnacle of international hockey with clutch performances against archrival Canada in the final.
First, Monique scored the game-tying goal in the third period to send the teams to overtime. Then, Jocelyne put the game-winning shootout goal past the Canadian goalie with a brilliant deke move. The victory marked the first time since 1998 the Americans knocked off the Canadians in the gold-medal game.
UND hockey greatness
The UND men’s hockey team downed Quinnipiac 5-1 to win college hockey's national championship in 2016, the school’s eighth title in program history.
Only one national champion in the past 20 years had a better winning percentage than this Fighting Hawks squad. UND finished at 34-6-4, and sent 12 players from that team to the NHL. Only one team in North Dakota's storied history has finished with a better winning percentage. That was the 1986-87 Hrkac Circus national title team.
The 2019-20 team currently is ranked No. 1 in the nation and headed into the Christmas break with the program’s best record since 1958. The Fighting Hawks will start 2020 at 14-1-2.
Andrew Sadek disappearance
North Dakota State College of Science student Andrew Sadek disappeared in May 2014 after agreeing to work with police as a confidential drug informant. His body was found two months later in the Red River north of Breckenridge, Minn., with a gunshot wound to his head and a backpack full of rocks on his back.
The 20-year-old’s death has been a source of major controversy and national attention. Investigators say Sadek died by suicide, but his parents believe he was murdered. A coroner’s report did not determine the cause of death, and no weapon has ever been found.
Four North Dakota law enforcement officers died in the line of duty this decade, including Fargo police officer Jason Moszer, whose death unnerved North Dakota’s biggest city.
Moszer was shot during a Feb. 10, 2016 standoff with armed suspect Marcus Schumacher at his Fargo home. The 33-year-old officer died the next day.
Two tragic officer deaths rocked Bismarck in the early part of the decade. Sgt. Steve Kenner, 56, was shot and killed while responding to a domestic assault call in 2011. Burleigh County Sheriff’s Deputy Bryan Sleeper, 39, died of a heart attack in 2011 while assisting in the arrest of an alleged drunken driver.
The most recent officer death came in 2017 when Rolette County Sheriff's Deputy Colt Allery, 29, was shot and killed while pursuing a man suspected of stealing a pickup truck. The names of the fallen officers were added to the National Law Enforcement Officer Memorial in Washington.
There's been plenty of flooding this decade, with major floods in 2010 and 2011.
Fargo has avoided a catastrophe from the flood-prone Red River, and construction of the diversion meant to protect the metro area is well underway. The towns around Grand Forks, protected by a flood wall erected after the Flood of 1997, still face water issues from Red tributaries every spring.
Minot dealt with perhaps the worst flood-related damages of the decade when water from the Souris River spilled over levees in June 2011. The flood forced the evacuation of about 11,000 residents and destroyed more than 4,000 homes in Ward County.
Bismarck saw severe flooding that same summer as the Missouri River reached historic levels. The floods drove at least 900 residents from their homes for up to three months.
Higher ed turmoil
North Dakota’s university system has seen its fair share of turmoil in a decade where top officials generated controversy and sharp budget cuts hampered colleges and universities.
Not long after he took the chancellor job in 2012, Hamid Shirvani’s management style began rubbing university presidents, state lawmakers, faculty and students the wrong way. Shirvani’s tumultuous tenure as NDUS chancellor ended with a $925,000 buyout after just 11 months.
Mark Kennedy also had a short stay as the president of UND. His detractors say he mishandled budget cuts and caused controversy by deciding in February 2019 to allow Chief of Staff Angelique Foster to work remotely from Texas.
North Dakota’s universities and colleges all dealt with budget reductions in recent years as state funding for higher education decreased. UND lost about 600 jobs and cut three varsity teams, including women’s ice hockey, as a result of the 2017 budget shortfall. NDSU began buying out some faculty members and looks to cut 10% from its academic budget with enrollment expected to drop.
The proposed Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library appeared in multiple iterations as Gov. Doug Burgum tried to get the project off the ground.
The library was once planned for Dickinson with a separate museum in Old West tourist town Medora, but the library foundation voted last year to build one combined facility in or near Medora. Dickinson and the state approved the allocation of funds to the original plan on the condition that construction started before the end of 2018. When the foundation voted to move the project, state Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, called it “a hijacking.”
The project is now moving forward after the state Legislature approved earlier this year a $50 million allocation, which is contingent on the foundation’s ability to raise $100 million in private funds.