State board to pick new UND president Tuesday

GRAND FORKS, N.D. (FNS) – After a search process that has lasted just over six months, the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education is expected to name the 13th president of UND on Tuesday, Dec. 3.

The meeting will be held at the Energy and Environmental Research Center on UND’s campus beginning at 8:30 a.m. After some opening remarks from search committee co-chairs Casey Ryan and Denny Elbert, the state board will spend an hour each interviewing finalists Andrew Armacost, Laurie Stenberg Nichols and David Rosowsky in an open meeting.

“We have a pool of three great candidates,” SBHE chair Nick Hacker told the Grand Forks Herald last week. “I think they’re very well qualified and would do a wonderful job. In this process, you really have to rely on the search committee and the work they’ve done, which is really wonderful.”

Hacker spoke about the community engagement between the candidates and the community during the candidate visits, noting he looks forward to speaking with each of the finalists.

Following the interviews, the state board will go into executive session for an undetermined amount of time before returning to open session to announce the next UND president.

Following that announcement, Hacker and the new UND president will enter executive session again to negotiate the president’s contract before entering open session again to give formal remarks.

The meeting will be live-streamed on the North Dakota University System website at

Though the search didn’t officially begin until May 30, when the SBHE named Joshua Wynne as interim president and named Denny Elbert and Casey Ryan as leaders of the search committee, rumors of former UND President Mark Kennedy being on the outs began in April.

On April 9, the Herald reported that Kennedy was rumored to be leaving the university after less than three years. The next day, the University of Colorado had confirmed that Kennedy was the sole finalist for the president’s position, which oversees four campuses in the state.

By mid-June, Kennedy had his last day and Wynne had taken over leadership of the campus.

At the end of June, the rest of the search committee members had been named and public input sessions with community members, both on and off campus, began, continuing over the next several months.

More than 60 individuals applied to become the president of the state’s flagship university. That list continued to be pared down until six semifinalists visited campus in November. Each spent about two days on campus meeting with students, staff, faculty and community members. On Nov. 22, the list was narrowed to three.

Water spill in Burke County impacts farmland

BISMARCK (FNS) — An estimated 83,000 gallons of produced water spilled at a gas plant in Burke County, N.D., and impacted nearby farmland after an abandoned disposal well began leaking, according to a news release from the state Department of Environmental Quality.

Produced water is a mixture of saltwater, oil and sometimes, drilling fluids, that is created during oil and gas production.

The spill occurred at the Lignite Gas Plant about 10 miles from the Canadian border. The plant is owned by Calgary, Alta.-based Steel Reef, LLC. The spill happened on Sunday, Nov. 24, and Steel Reef reported it the same day, but the department did not announce it until Monday, Dec. 2.

Department officials will continue inspecting the site and monitoring remediation efforts.

ND man sentenced to five years probation for solicitation of a minor

GRAND FORKS, N.D. (FNS) – A Grand Forks man was sentenced Monday, Dec. 2, to five years of supervised probation for soliciting a minor.

Derek James Mortrud, 33, submitted an Alford plea Monday afternoon, meaning he maintains his innocence but admits there are sufficient facts for a jury to find him guilty. He also will pay $525 in court fees and will be required to register as a sex offender for 15 years. He was ordered not to contact the victim or the juvenile who reported the crime.

The class C felony carries a maximum five-year sentence or $10,000 or both. It was reduced from a class A felony charge of gross sexual imposition as part of the plea agreement.

According to an affidavit for Mortrud’s arrest, the sexual assault allegation was brought forward by a child known by the victim. The child, known as Joe Doe, told an elementary school counselor Mortrud had molested the victim, Jane Doe, in 2017. Court documents indicated the counselor reported the admission to police immediately and Jane Doe was interviewed by police the following day.

Jane Doe, who is younger than 15, told police that Mortrud had assaulted her about four months earlier. The affidavit also said that Joe Doe told police that Mortrud “basically raped (Jane Doe)” and “he should go to jail.”

MN man dies after snowmobile crashes into tree

PEQUOT LAKES, Minn. (FNS) — A 38-year-old man died following a snowmobile crash reported just after 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30, on the Paul Bunyan Trail, just north of Olson Road, in Pequot Lakes.

The Pequot Lakes Police Department reported two men were riding snowmobiles south on the Paul Bunyan Trail when one left the trail and crashed into a tree. The other snowmobile operator called 911 to report the crash and administered CPR to the victim. Emergency responders also administered CPR, however efforts to revive him were unsuccessful and he was pronounced deceased at the scene.

The victim, Andrew Novak from Prior Lake, was operating a 2007 Yamaha Phazer. It appears Novak left the trail, striking the tree. The crash remains under investigation.

Pequot Lakes is about 23 miles north of Brainerd.

Bemidji mayor announces run for state Senate

BEMIDJI (FNS) – Bemidji Mayor Rita Albrecht announced a run for the Minnesota state Senate on Sunday, Dec. 1.

Her campaign released a one-page statement, saying she plans to start visiting different communities in the district to meet with residents and businesses.

“It’s been an honor and privilege to serve as Bemidji mayor for the past seven years. I look forward to completing my term at the end of 2020,” Albrecht said.

Sen. Justin Eichorn, R-Grand Rapids, currently holds the seat for District 5 in the Senate. Eichorn is serving his first term as senator after being elected in 2016. Albrecht was first elected as the Mayor of Bemidji in 2012.

Albrecht is a Bemidji native and graduated from Bemidji State with degrees in geography and education. She formerly was the regional director for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources based in Bemidji.

Although party affiliation is not specifically stated in the release, Albrecht has been affiliated with the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party in Minnesota. Bemidji resident and Red Lake Tribal member Charles Dolson is also looking to unseat Eichorn in District 5. Dolson, 42, an attorney, also will be seeking the DFL party endorsement to challenge Eichorn.

Minn. medical marijuana conditions to expand

ST. PAUL (FNS) — Beginning in late 2020, Minnesota residents who have chronic pain or age-related macular degeneration will be able to apply to the state’s medical cannabis program.

The state Department of Health announced on Monday, Dec. 2, that both conditions will be added to the list of those that qualify for the program in August of next year. That same month, the department will also make medical pot available in two new forms of ingestion that it recently approved.

Currently, the department only allows medical marijuana to be consumed in the form of a liquid, pill, topical medication or vaporized substance. The updates will grant patients access to water-soluble options, such as powdered beverage mixes and orally dissolvable products, such as lozenges and gum.

Also poised to grow is the number of medical cannabis treatment centers that the program’s two manufacturers are able to operate. Leafline Labs has proposed to open new centers in Willmar, Mankato, Golden Valley and Rogers, according to the department, while Minnesota Medical Solutions is proposing locations Woodbury, Blaine, Duluth and Burnsville.

Speaking to reporters Monday, state Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said that the department has not estimated the number of new patients that could apply to the program as the result of the newly approved conditions. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, chronic pain alone affects some 20% of Americans.

Officials said that a timeline for the launch of the new treatment centers has not been established but that some are expected to open late in the spring of 2020.

People diagnosed with chronic pain and macular degeneration will be able to apply to the program beginning in July 2020.

MN State Christmas tree harvested from state forest

PINE COUNTY, Minn. (FNS) – Foresters from the Department of Natural Resources cut down the official state of Minnesota Christmas tree Monday, Dec. 2, in General C.C. Andrews State Forest in Pine County.

The balsam fir, which will decorate the Governor’s Residence, is about 40 years old and 25 feet tall. Each year, DNR staff chooses the Governor’s Christmas tree from one of Minnesota’s 59 state forests, a release from the DNR said.

Choosing the perfect Christmas tree for the Governor’s Residence takes a keen eye, said DNR Forester Jean Mouelle. “I look for a tall tree that’s nicely shaped and well filled out,” Mouelle said. “It also has to be in a location where it will not be damaged when dropped, and where foresters can easily remove it from the forest and load it onto a trailer.”

The tree will be set up at the Governor’s Residence, 1006 Summit Ave., St. Paul, on Tuesday, Dec. 3, and lit on Thursday, Dec. 5, weather permitting, the release said.

General C.C. Andrews State Forest is about 55 miles southwest of Duluth.

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