Site   Index,   Search,   Glossary

Home > Introduction > Introduction (Continued) > SRMSC Local Impact

SRMSC Local Impact

(Excerpt from Historic American Engineering Record, HAER No. ND-9)

IV. Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

C. Construction/Engineering

6. Local Economics

The local economy began to feel the effects of Safeguard construction in April 1970, with the arrival of project employees and their dependents. Up to the initial period of construction, this region had experienced a decline in population. In many ways, the mass influx was overwhelming.

The tight schedule of the Safeguard project gave the local communities less lead time for planning than was typical for a non-defense project. In order to prepare the communities, the Safeguard Command prepared a report indicating the projected population increases for each community and assessing the adequacy of existing facilities to meet the increased demands. Once construction was actually underway, a revised, more accurate version was provided. Moreover, an Area Resource and Development agent was assigned to the area from 1970 through 1974 to serve as a technical assistant and a liaison between the Safeguard command and local community leaders.

Langdon is a prime example of the effects of the ABM project on a community. The economy of the Langdon area was greatly stimulated by the impact of the construction, and private business activity during this period expanded accordingly. Employment increased by 47.1 percent from 1969 to 1973 in Cavalier County, compared to only an 8.3 percent increase for North Dakota as a whole. From 1969 to 1971 total sales for Langdon businesses increased by 40.2 percent.

Employment increased 22.3 percent in Pembina County over the same period, while 10.4 and 14.5 percent increases were experienced in Walsh and Ramsey counties, respectively. Personal income in Cavalier County increased 202 percent between 1969 and 1972, compared to 27 percent for the entire state during the same period. After 1970, approximately 70 new businesses opened in the region and 45 expanded. Two new banks were opened in Langdon, and private sector utility systems were greatly expanded.

Due to population increases, local communities experienced an increase in their tax base; however, the tax base did not increase at the same rate as civil growth. Two factors contributed to this discrepancy. First, because the ABM installation itself was Federal property, it was not subject to taxation. Second, the relocated workers lived largely in mobile homes, a negligible addition to the tax structure, or they resided in exempt government quarters.

With a rapidly growing citizenry and such a slowly increasing tax base, the communities affected by the project could have experienced severe financial difficulties. However, these problems were eased considerably by Federal impact payments. Also, increased sales volumes not only benefitted local merchants, but may have single-handedly saved some "main street" businesses from closure.

7. Housing Shortages

ABM workers settled primarily in two small towns near the construction sites -- Langdon and Cavalier. As Langdon was centrally located in relation to the various sites, it received the bulk of the population influx. Langdon's population nearly doubled in three years, rising from 2,182 residents in 1970 to 3,957 by 1973 -- an average annual growth rate of 22 percent per year. As a result, Langdon and the surrounding area experienced many of the problems associated with rapid population growth.

Housing shortages resulted in issuance of building permits for 72 single unit homes and over 270 rental units between 1971 and 1975. Nevertheless, a housing shortage still existed in the Langdon area. Of the workers employed in the project, about 70 percent relocated to the area, creating a need for almost 3,000 additional housing units (including group quarters) in the impact area within a two- to three-year period. Competition for housing caused rental rates to rise substantially for local residents relative to most local residents' income increases.

To offset the sudden growth, Federal impact payments were made to help communities adjust to the new situation. Initially Congress made no provisions for community impact funds, but Senators Young of North Dakota and Mansfield of Montana sponsored new legislation known as "The Young-Mansfield Amendment," which appropriated $14 million to help defray local community costs resulting from the construction in the North Dakota and Montana (the eventually canceled Malmstrom site) regions. Although initial payments were not received until March, these Federal funds did much to alleviate the financial burden of the areas most directly affected.

8. Public Utilities

Public utilities had to be upgraded to meet the requirements of the population explosion. This included local water and waste systems which were considerably expanded at a cost of roughly $1.3 million. In Langdon, the extant water mains were extended and a new water tower was constructed; however, due to increased pressures, over one hundred water main breaks occurred in the city's older lines during the winter of 1970-71. The sewer system upgrading was not quite as difficult, as an improved system was already in process prior to the ABM construction period. Solid waste, however, was a problem. The open dump system was replaced by a sanitary landfill. Telephone installations in Langdon soared. There was an increase from 4,164 phones in 1968 to 5,934 in 1974, resulting in increased service rates, difficulty in meeting the demand for experienced employees, and a considerable quantity of unpaid bills. Fortunately, the local electric company did not have serious difficulty in meeting the increased electrical demands resulting from the ABM project. Delinquent bills did not pose a major problem as the required deposit was usually sufficient to cover any unpaid bills.

9. Schools

Constructed for the small, diffused community, the school systems required extensive modification to sustain the increase in enrollment. In the first year of the construction project alone, 637 children of ABM workers poured into the area's school systems. About 50 percent of these students were in the Langdon school system, causing overcrowded school facilities. During the early ABM project years, overcrowding and turnover were common problems. Other affected school systems were Grand Forks, Cavalier, Lakota, Edmore, and Nekoma. Enrollment for the Nekoma school system increased 155 percent (124 students) during the project. Impact payments of $2.3 million were made to affected communities for educational purposes, with Langdon receiving construction grants of $537,388. It was noted by local school administrators that despite the influx of students, truancy and dropout rates did not appreciably change. New children were easily integrated into the student body, and four of Langdon's five honor students in the 1974 graduating class were from families employed by the ABM project.

10. Other Facilities

Law enforcement personnel and facilities were expanded in response to the ABM project. Federal grants of $71,000 and $104,000 allowed for the enlargement of the law enforcement staffs in Langdon and in Cavalier County, respectively. Overall funding for northeastern North Dakota totaled $481,000 between 1 January 1971 and 31 March 1974. Public opinion and police data provide conflicting reports as to increased criminal activity due to Safeguard construction. Police records in Cavalier and Grafton indicate no increase, but Langdon police data revealed that crime rates due to drug and alcohol violations, shoplifting, and burglaries did multiply appreciably.

Medical resources also underwent modifications. Primarily as a result of Federal impact funds (98 percent of the $449,180 cost), Cavalier County Memorial Hospital (CCMH) capacity was increased from 28 to 38 beds. Pembina County Hospital also expanded, but only 15 percent was covered by Federal funding. The augmented services were fortuitous, for the CCMH administrator noted an increase in industrial and traffic accidents associated with the project, and Langdon also experienced an increase in venereal disease. Furthermore, numerous problems with mental depression among migrant wives were reported by Langdon doctors. It appeared that the major causes of depression were a lack of extra curricular and social interaction activities and the extremely long, harsh cold winters which left many homebound.

The Safeguard construction initially strained local medical facilities, but many reported medical services of a higher caliber as the result of added staff and capacity. Those that did feel the medical support deteriorated complained primarily about doctor-to-patient ratios and long waits for appointments.

11. Transportation Networks

The Safeguard project made heavy demands on the area's transportation network, especially during the actual period of construction. The region between Grand Forks and Langdon was well supplied with railroads, but the line nearest the PAR site was 21 km (13 mi) away and had no direct delivery routes to the area. Additionally, roads linking the railroads to the PAR and MSR sites were two lane, unsurfaced roads intended for light farm traffic. The size and number of vehicles supporting Safeguard construction would severely damage these rural roads, which were also affected by bitter cold which eroded the surfaces through splitting and surface freezing.

Consequently, major street and highway construction and repair projects were undertaken. Defense Access Funds allowed improvement of any roads providing a means of admission to the worksites. By 1974, Federal support totaling roughly $700,000 aided in repairing damage by heavy construction truck traffic on Langdon roads, and an impact grant of $115,000 was provided for the streets of Nekoma. By 31 March 1974, the total street and highway repair costs had reached $11.6 million, of which 74 percent was Federal funds. State and Federal funding also covered half of the construction costs for a new airport in Langdon in 1969. This was followed in 1974 with a $134,000 Federal airport grant for general improvements and the addition of a much needed parking apron and taxiway.