BELFIELD, N.D.-The Belfield Theatre didn't have a movie playing on Tuesday night, but the room was still filled with people drinking soda and eating popcorn. Representatives from Meridian Energy Group answered questions from residents-who sat in the theater's red crushed-velvet seats-about the proposed Davis Refinery that would be built on over 700 acres near Belfield.
The refinery, which has marketed itself as the "cleanest refinery ever built," drew many questions from residents in the area.
While there were concerns from the community about the visual and wildlife impact, comments about city improvement lent itself applause from the crowd.
Natalie Muruato, Belfield city auditor, asked the Meridian representatives if they will invest in the community's existing infrastructure.
"I understand that there are environmental impacts but North Dakota, and this area, has been a boom and bust forever. I am one of those people that was brought here for oil and I am doing great things in my community because I can and I want to," she said. "We want to keep those 200 (future employees) here and we want to provide them with a grocery store and other amenities. So I hope if you are willing to invest in the school, you'll continue to invest in our community as well."
"That's the plan," responded Tom Williams, executive vice president of permitting for Meridian.
In an informational sheet handed out to residents at the beginning of the meeting, Meridian stated that the refinery could not be seen from the highest point in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The visual impact of the crude oil refinery from the park and along Interstate 94, has been a major topic of conversation since the beginning of the proposal.
One resident was concerned that the construction of the refinery and operation would disrupt the peacefulness of the area.
"I guess, growing up here and appreciating southwestern North Dakota, like a number of us do. I have some concerns, deep concerns, concerning the quality and preservation of the park,"
said Ruth Molm. "I'm not objecting the refinery, just to the location. If there were another location, I would be jumping up and down for this."
The information sheet also stated that Meridian would paint the refinery in natural paint tones to blend into the landscape and native trees and natural vegetation borders around the refinery.
One resident raised concern about the types of employees who would be brought into the community if the project is approved. She said that during the oil boom some workers that were employed did not enhance the communities that they lived in and worked in.
"When you are considering the (people) ... who are going to be coming here and be impacting our lives, I would hope that you consider not hiring people with drug issues," said LaRae Tschetter.
Meridian estimates that 500 jobs will be created for construction and 200 permanent jobs during operation of the refinery.