North Dakota resets the debate over time zone disparity

JAMES MacPHERSON Associated Press
Farm Forum

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Residents of a largely rural corner of North Dakota are fiercely opposing a plan that would move them into the same time zone as the rest of the state.

Few subjects set off a parochial debate in North Dakota like a move to reset the clocks. A bill under consideration in the Legislature would not only move southwestern North Dakota from Mountain time to Central but also scrap daylight savings time altogether.

Daylight Saving do away

Sen. Dave Oehlke of Devils Lake and three other Republican senators from Central time zones are pushing a bill that would put an end to daylight saving time and make Central time the state’s official time zone.

Oehlke, the bill’s primary sponsor, told the Senate Transportation Committee on Jan. 19 that the idea came from his constituents, who complained about having to readjust their schedules on everything from sleep to taking medication.

“It’s hard for people to get back on track,” Oehlke said. “I just think’s a good idea not to have to disrupt your life and change your clock every six months.”

Should the Legislature reject daylight saving time, North Dakota would join Arizona and Hawaii as the only states that don’t fall back or spring forward.

Central time support

With more business conducted with Bismarck and Fargo — both Central time communities — backers say some people in Mountain time areas find it hard to order supplies or get technical support. Supporters also estimate four business hours are lost every day between the two time zones — one each in the morning and evening and the difference in lunch hours.

And backers of a switch to Central time say some children in the Mountain time zone must get up an hour earlier to attend classes at nearby schools in the Central time zone.

Does anybody really know what time it is?

In North Dakota, many refer to Central time as “fast time.” Central time is one hour ahead of Mountain.

A dozen of North Dakota’s 53 counties, all of them west of the Missouri River, are either partially or wholly within the Mountain time zone.

Other states also are divided into differing time zones. South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Texas all have sections in both Central and Mountain times. Some states that straddle the Eastern-Central and Mountain-Pacific divides also share time zones, but perhaps none are as confusing as North Dakota.

The division between Central and Mountain time at one time in North Dakota roughly followed the Missouri River, but a few counties have switched solely to Central time beginning with Oliver County in 1992, after voter approval.

The switch to Central time by some counties and not others has made the current time-zone line appear as if it were drawn with a squirt gun.

Williston, which is nearly on the Montana-North Dakota border, is in Central time. Yet Dickinson, which is much farther east, is on Mountain time. Even odder are the neighboring cities of Watford City and Killdeer. Watford City is on Central time, while Killdeer, about 45 miles southeast, is on Mountain time.

Does anyone really care?

The idea of one time zone has been proposed in the Legislature several times over the years, but has not gotten enough support. All it did was pit bigger cities against those set in their ways in southwestern North Dakota, said Sen. Bill Bowman, a Republican from Bowman, a ranching community in the state’s southwest corner.

Bowman, who has served 26 years in the Legislature, said he and others have likened time-zone legislation to stepping into “piranha-infested waters.”

“It upsets people when we are wasting our time on this, and when we should be working on budget and the needs of our state,” he said. “There are a lot of people, and a lot of cowboys in my district, who just want to be left alone and I represent those people.”

Said one letter to Bowman from a constituent from a constituent opposing the legislation: “Please don’t cater to those city people. Central time has slowly crept to the west and it really needs to stop.”