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Tribal transportation department, P2P opens road to new equipment

Turtle Mountain Star of Rolla, North Dakota

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It's no secret how the Turtle Mountain Reservation is plagued with potholes and many of the roads and streets are in disrepair across the reservation and tribal and trust lands.

One major step in the right direction was made recently with the purchase of a roller that packs down road asphalt and gravel base. The Turtle Mountain Paving Company is in its infancy stage and is part of the tribal transportation department. The purchase of the roller was made possible with funding from the Pathways to Prosperity Program through the support of the Northwest Area Foundation. The poverty reduction program has improved roads as one of its priorities so the P2P was eager to help make the roads safer for the community. P2P contributed the majority of the cost of the roller injecting $125,000 towards the purchase. Turtle Mountain Transportation paid for the remainder of total cost of $136,000 for the roller.

Ron Trottier, Turtle Mountain Transportation Department Director, is pleased with the new equipment and how it has literally impacted the road systems at the first site of work. The transportation department crews were busy last week fixing up the roads at St. Mary's Housing Complex north of Dunseith. Trottier said the housing roads had many potholes that were up to three feet wide and seven inches deep. The department had another piece of heavy equipment called a "zipper" that would grind up old asphalt and combine it with the deeper base material and now the heavy roller creates almost a new asphalt road after the process. After the zipper does the grinding up, the material is bladed up and then the roller comes over and presses the mixture into what is a new asphalt road. The zipper can only grind up asphalt roads and many of the roads on the reservation are made of concrete. Still, this is a huge benefit for the residents in the housing areas that are designated for the new process of "zipping, grading and packing down".

The zipper and new roller equipment is good for asphalt roads and the initial focus will be on housing project road systems and some critical areas of high traffic. Trottier noted that the work at St. Mary's Housing was finished on Friday and this week, the crew takes their asphalt zipper, blade and roller to Eagle View Housing where they will spend a week in refurbishing those housing units road system.

"As long as we have time and the weather holds up, we hope to do as much with the zipper and roller as we can. We have a small crew here but they do a lot of work sometime putting in over 12 hours a day. With the work up at St. Mary's we had a couple of long days up there and this week, we'll probably have the crew put in long days too. Whatever it takes, our transportation crew will do to make the roads better and with winter coming, that work will be even more challenging for us at our department," stated Trottier.

Trottier said the gratitude that has come with the new equipment purchased is coming from housing security as well as the residents. Last week, the security personnel was called to an emergency and one officer revealed to Trottier of how good it was to drive straight up to the residence instead of having to try to avoid the large potholes that were once prevalent.

"The new asphalt is a bit softer texture so we will have to go over the roads we worked on in the spring to repack it, but the roads are really smooth once we go over it with the roller equipment," Trottier explained Pathways to Prosperity has a vested interest in creating opportunities through investment in infrastructure development in its master plan. Once Turtle Mountain Paving becomes more established, the jobs and economic development will develop even more than it is now. The new paving company will eventually be a $2 million company if the plan evolves as it should, predicted Trottier. The need for infrastructure investment is essential to the tribe's future in economic development, he noted. There are currently 171 miles of roads in BIA Inventory, all other tribal roads combine total over 300 miles of roads. Of these roads, 80% rate in the poor or failing category in the BIA Rating System.

In 2007, reports show that there is $106,255,000 of needed repairs to roads defined as "Priority Roads" (12 roads totaling 69 miles). Routes that don't meet BIA standards constitute $196,603,250 of needed repairs (23 roads totaling 67 miles).

The Turtle Mountain Tribal Transportation Department reports show that there is more than $305,858,250 worth of road work within the boundaries of the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation. Tribal Transportation has an annual budget of $2.2 — 2.5 million per year. $300,000 is the annual budget for road maintenance which barely covers employee cost.

Pathways to Prosperity, through the grant funds from Northwest Area Foundation, will create opportunities for job creation while investing in the creation of a new tribal enterprise (Turtle Mountain Paving Company) that will allow the tribe to become more proactive versus reactive in servicing critical transportation infrastructure. Turtle Mountain Paving Company has been created as a division of Tribal Transportation, much the same as a county roads department, to address leakage of key resources to outside construction entities.

This strategy will address the need to ensure infrastructure is kept in serviceable condition to meet the needs of continued growth.

Further, the creation of a new tribal enterprise will create more local employment opportunities, and even more importantly better utilize resources available to the tribe with a focus on infrastructure development. P2P plans to leverage Northwest Area Foundation funding against federal dollars under the Tribal Transportation Department, and pursue funding from USDA to support the infrastructure strategy.

This strategy of the P2P plan is designed to become more proactive in supporting the transportation infrastructure. It is poised now to help generate revenue from the new paving enterprise to continue operations and use profits generated to further invest into the infrastructure of the reservation.

"As long as we have time and the weather holds up, we hope to do as much with the zipper and roller as we can. We have a small crew here but they do a lot of work sometime putting in over 12 hours a day."

Ron Trottier, Turtle Mountain Tribal Transporation Department



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Original Publication Date: November 2, 2015



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