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North Dakota Land Board welcomes new commissioner

Land Commissioner Jodi Smith presents Wednesday to the Board of University and School Lands. Outgoing commissioner Lance Gaebe, back, assisted with the transition and served his last day on Wednesday. Bismarck Tribune photo.

BISMARCK — The Board of University and School Lands welcomed a new land commissioner Wednesday, Dec. 6, while recognizing outgoing commissioner Lance Gaebe for his service.

Jodi Smith attended her first board meeting as commissioner of the North Dakota Department of Trust Lands while Gaebe attended his last meeting after spending about a week helping with the transition.

"He's been wonderful to work with, and I commend him as a leader," said Smith, in her eighth day in the position.

Smith, who most recently worked for Sanford Health Foundation, said her top priorities as land commissioner are working on technology advancements, developing new administrative rules and ensuring that all issues from a 2016 performance audit have been addressed.

Gov. Doug Burgum, who is chairman of the Land Board, made a motion to formally recognize Gaebe for his service and dedication. Gaebe's last day with the department was Wednesday.

"You've guided this department through tremendous growth," Burgum said of Gaebe, who has served as commissioner since 2010.

The five-member board selected Smith for the position in November in a split vote, with three members voting for Smith and the other two supporting Gaebe to continue in his role.

Court case delayed

The board received an update Wednesday on the court case involving the Land Board and a dispute over mineral ownership along the Missouri River.

A judge has stayed the proceedings in the William S. Wilkinson case until after a survey of the ordinary high-water mark of the Missouri River channel is complete.

The case was heard by the North Dakota Supreme Court earlier this year and remanded to Northwest Judicial District Court because the court did not have the opportunity to consider legislation approved by lawmakers in the past session.

Judge Paul Jacobson ruled that the parties shall request a status conference to schedule a trial date upon release of the survey findings.

The North Dakota Industrial Commission is overseeing the survey, with the final product anticipated at the end of March, a public hearing expected in June and a commission vote on the findings anticipated for July 2018.

The state has about $230 million in funds set aside in the Strategic Investment and Improvement Fund to cover potential refunds for lawsuits and legislation related to mineral ownership, according to a report presented to the board Wednesday.

Airport grants awarded

The Land Board awarded $18.5 million in grants to the Williston airport and $1.4 million to the Dickinson airport Wednesday, funds that were approved by the 2017 Legislature for airport expansion projects. Federal dollars also are committed to the construction projects.

Board members also awarded a total of $1.3 million in grants for airport improvements in Mohall, Stanley, Tioga and Watford City.

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