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Roosevelt library won't be built in Dickinson; legislator calls it 'a hijacking'

The original site for the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library in Dickinson, N.D., is pictured in 2017. As of May 14, 2017, the project is moving away from Dickinson and will instead be set near Medora. (Sydney Mook / Forum News Service)1 / 4
Vicky Steiner2 / 4
Portrait of Governor Doug Burgum3 / 4
Rich Wardner4 / 4

DICKINSON, N.D. -- There will be no Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library in Dickinson after a decision to build the library near the Theodore Roosevelt National Park near Medora.

The Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Foundation Board had been previously decided in March that the project would be divided into two locations, a Medora-based museum and a Dickinson-based library. The North Dakota Legislature had approved $12.5 million to the library project on the condition that construction be started before the end of this year. The city of Dickinson had pledged $3 million to bolster this pledge.

The foundation board voted 9-2 Monday, May 14, in favor of the change in plans.

After the board’s decision, Mayor Scott Decker of Dickinson said the decision was not entirely unexpected, and said “Dickinson’s money stays in Dickinson.”

Monday morning’s meeting opened with words from Gov. Doug Burgum, who is not a member of the board but has supported building the museum and library in one location.

"I think we have an opportunity to have a vision that would really honor Theodore Roosevelt, but is also, as I've described it, it's really become the Mount Rushmore for North Dakota," Burgum said.

Burgum said that the Dickinson State University project to digitize Theodore Roosevelt's files, which was the original start of the entire project, remains a priority and he hopes to see money put forward to accelerate it.

"From the standpoint of this office, (we) firmly support continuing the digitization at Dickinson State and seeking funds to accelerate it. We support rolling the existing legislation appropriation forward to the project," Burgum said. "We also support a single location approach (and) at least in my view from talking from national donors, that single location needs to be anchored at or near the Theodore Roosevelt National Park."

Legislators suspect

Representative Vicky Steiner, R-Dickinson, and Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, were the two votes against the project.

Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, did not share the governor's confidence that the legislative funding that had been once pledged to the project would be able to be rolled back or reallocated to the non-Dickinson location.

"He's talking about reappropriating the $9.8 million ... there's definitely no guarantees on that," Wardner said.

Wardner made it clear that Burgum's past vetoes and his relationship with the House of Representatives would also be a issue.

"We need to make sure we take a real good look at our priorities as we go into this tight budget. When it comes to the House, the House is the one who is really upset at the governor's vetoes ... because all 14 vetoes were House-originated ideas," Wardner said.

Finally, he expressed his own frustration at the back-and-forth that's been done on this decision.

"I'll be honest with you, I'm a little bit irritated by the whole process, because we've been changing our minds. Seven months ago, it was all going to be in Dickinson," Wardner said. "All of a sudden we've stopped ... then it was going to be in Dickinson and Medora ... and now today's vote will be to put it all in Medora. That's a hijacking, in my book."

Steiner said there needs to be more space for the project on digitizing Roosevelt's files. Burgum said he agrees but he doesn't have a specific plan right now.

"I still don't feel like we have made a commitment to DSU," Steiner said after the vote.

Thomas Mitzel, president of DSU, was not in attendance at Monday's meeting, but provided this comment: "Our goal at Dickinson State University is to continue the work underway at the Theodore Roosevelt Center. Since its inception in 2009, the TR Center has been preserving and promoting the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt by offering educational programing, serving as reference to scholars, and digitizing more than 50,000 items. We will continue to support the work of the TR Center and keep it going strong."

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