State House Funds Rail, Kills Funds Aimed At Hoeven's Bank

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The North Dakota House agreed Wednesday to fund a rail spur to help a troubled shipping center in Minot, but balked at giving more than $8 million in taxpayer money to bail out a trio of banks — including one owned by Republican U.S. Sen. John Hoeven -- that obtained the facility through foreclosure.

The GOP-controlled House voted 84-7 to provide a loan of up to $2.5 million for track improvements for the facility. The bill passed with an emergency clause so that the funding is available to complete the work before a late-summer deadline imposed by BNSF Railway, which is currently allowing intermodal unit trains to be temporarily loaded on its mainline.

The original legislation, sponsored by five Minot-area lawmakers, would have allowed an economic development group to buy the shipping facility from the three banks that bought its assets through foreclosure — the state-owned Bank of North Dakota, First Western Bank and Trust, and the State Bank and Trust of Kenmare.

Hoeven, who served as North Dakota’s governor from 2000 to 2010, is part owner and serves on the board of directors of First Western, which was started by his father. He’s also a former president of the Bank of North Dakota, the nation’s only state-owned bank.

The original bill sailed through the Senate earlier. Just one senator, Republican Nicole Poolman, of Bismarck, voted against it, telling The Associated Press that it smacked of a “bank bailout.”

Several senators later said they were unaware of the specifics of the legislation, including its ties to Hoeven, until the AP published stories about it. Hoeven also said he did not know about the bill until the AP asked about it last month.

The amended bill passed by the House will return to the Senate for review.

Intermodal service allows producers and processors to directly load containers on rail in Minot to ship to international destinations. State officials have pursued intermodal rail service for more than two decades in North Dakota.

Supporters believe the Minot facility will reduce shipping costs and increase markets for the state’s farm products and other commodities.