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Senior Airman Sydney Chase points to a land navigation position as Staff Sgt. Kally Anderson, both of the 119th Medical Group, looks at a compass to locate destination targets during military training at Camp Gilbert C. Grafton, North Dakota, July 19, 2017. Senior Master Sgt. David H. Lipp / U.S. Air National Guard

North Dakota ranch group opposes expansion at Camp Grafton

DEVILS LAKE, N.D. — A prominent ranching organization in North Dakota is opposed to a military training center expansion proposed in the state budget.

The $15 million Camp Grafton South expansion would add a small-arms range complex and additional training space at the Eddy County facility. Gov. Doug Burgum presented the budget Wednesday, and Legacy funds, which are earnings from an oil tax savings account, would be used to expand the Army National Guard training center south of Devils Lake.

The proposal would add at least 6,000 acres to the training site, North Dakota Guard spokesman Bill Prokopyk said. The complex sits on more than 9,000 acres about 40 miles south of Devils Lake.

The North Dakota Stockmen’s Association has publicly opposed the expansion based upon the organization’s core beliefs against government land ownership and eminent domain. District One Vice President Jeff Schafer said the group’s opposition has nothing to do with the military, because they are “very pro military.”

“If the government owns the land, it takes it out of the hands of people like young producers who want to get started in farming,” Schafer said. “It would be nice if it can stay in the hands of actively involved farmers -- leave it in the hands of the people who are making a living off the land.”

The space is needed to upgrade the range complex to expedite training and create space required for newer technology and ammunitions, Adjutant Gen. Alan Dohrmann said. The way the National Guard operates has changed since the facility was built in the 1980s, he said.

Training for larger weaponry is not available in North Dakota because there isn’t enough space at the training center, he said. Guard members travel to Minnesota, Wyoming or Montana for the training.

There have been three public meetings to talk with landowners, Dohrmann said. He estimates about 50 landowners could be impacted by the expansion. He said the top concern has been eminent domain.

“The North Dakota National Guard does not have the authority to use eminent domain, and we are not seeking the authority to use eminent domain. … I’ve had a lot of landowners tell me more than once that they are not interested in selling, and that’s fine,” he said. “It’s their land and if they want to hold onto it for another five generations that’s absolutely their right.”

Dohrmann said the National Guard rents out unused land for grazing leases, so the land remains in production.

“Any new land we buy, we’d seek to keep those in production, too,” he said. “What we’ve done in the past is, when range activities come into conflict with where ranchers might be grazing their cattle, we just work with the ranchers to move the cattle to someplace where they won’t interfere with the military operations, and we’ve been doing that for decades and really haven’t had a problem.”

Dohrmann said there also was concern about damage to property or livestock, but there have not been any complaints or claims against the site for more than 18 years, aside from one noise complaint.

“We communicate the best we can with the landowners down there to let them know what our activities are so we can mitigate the impact we might have on their lives down there,” he said. “We’re committed to being good neighbors, and we have to communicate because I totally get it — our training activities do impact their lives, but I’m hoping that we can coexist.”