NEW TOWN Wednesday was a historic day for the Three Affiliated Tribes when land for the tribes' refinery project near Makoti was transferred into trust status and the refinery project can move forward.
"Here today this refinery is one that we are very proud because the 469 acres are now being taken into trust (and) will allow this refinery to move forward under the control of the Three Affiliated Tribes and the government of this reservation," said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar,
Salazar made the announcement at a news conference held in Tribal Headquarters, west of New Town on the Fort Berthold Reservation Wednesday.
"What this announcement means is now the financing can move forward today," said Tex Hall, chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes.
He said the tribes will be the issuer of Tribal Economic Development bonds, often referred to as TED bonds, and a law firm will sell the bonds to investors. "So the investors will be partners, if you will," Hall said.
The refinery site, located west of Makoti in Ward County, was fee land. Fee land is land that is not held in trust by the U.S. government.
Regarding the transfer of the land, Salazar told media, tribal members and others at the news conference, "It is an important decision that we have made after very extensive work on the part of Del Laverdure who has been right with me from the very beginning of our efforts to make sure that we are turning a new page on the relationships between the United States and the nation's First Americans."
"President Obama directed me to make sure that the past wrongs of history were righted and that we celebrated and helped in every possible way that we could... the 566 First American Nations move forward," Salazar added.
Hall noted there has been a history of broken promises by the federal government but this is a different day.
Salazar added that this is a day of fulfilling tribal promises that have been made.
"Our tribal-United States relationship where there is a mutual respect between the United States of America and the sovereign nations of this country is something that we are very proud of," Salazar said. "Today we celebrate. I also want to say that these things are not easy.
He said the Environmental Protection Agency approved the discharge permit for the refinery.
Salazar told the group the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn that morning had signed the Record of Decision taking the 469 acres of land into trust. He said they also signed other agreements that were necessary to allow the refinery project to move forward.
"None of this would have happened without great leadership of Del Laverdure and Mike Black," Salazar said. He said both have been his "right-hand" men in this project.
Laverdure said one of the highlights of staying on for the Obama-Salazar term "is to re-empower Indian nations to take control over their own resources and direct how they should be utilized and to benefit from all the revenue that they generate for the citizens of the Three Affiliated Tribes."
"This is something that has been a long time coming," said Black. He and Hall both pointed out the refinery project started nine or 10 years ago.
Black said he's been involved with the project for about the past five years. "To be honest with you. I didn't think I'd ever see this day come," he said.
"This is something that's monumental not only for the tribe, for the whole state of North Dakota and all the production and activity that's going on up here. This is something that will keep everything moving for a long time to come," Black said.
Salazar said the refinery is a huge economic benefit to the area.
"When you think about a nearly half a billion dollar construction project to take place here in North Dakota, it's going to be tremendously helpful to the overall economic well being of the entire state of North Dakota, including the local governments," Salazar said.
As for the tax impact of the land being transferred into trust status, Hall said, "I think the taxes are about $4,000. We're not talking a huge amount of tax dollars."
Hall said Rich Mayer, CEO of Thunder Butte Petroleum, and Dennis Fox Jr., board chair for Thunder Butte Corporation, have been working with the county and the community of Makoti to have some sort of payment in lieu of taxes.
The refinery will create jobs, Hall pointed out. "Makoti is the nearest community to Thunder Butte. I think all these benefits are going to far outweigh the $4,000," naming fire protection services and others.
Plans are for a groundbreaking for the new refinery in 2013, Salazar said.
He said some 800 to 1,000 jobs will be involved in the construction of the project and the continuing jobs will be part of the refinery for decades to come.
Hall said the plans are for 80 full-time jobs at the refinery after it is built.
Salazar again referred to the day as a historic day and that the refinery will create jobs in rural America and in North Dakota.