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Published March 16, 2011, 01:20 PM

ND's 3 largest cities show double-digit growth

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Fargo, Bismarck and Minot enjoyed double-digit population growth during the last decade, while the number of West Fargo residents jumped 73 percent, according to new federal census data released Wednesday.

Most of North Dakota's rural counties continued losing residents during the last decade, although a western boom in oil production helped three rural counties boost their populations by more than 10 percent.

Of North Dakota's 53 counties, 42 had population declines during the last decade, the data showed. North Dakota's overall population rose 4.7 percent from 2000 to 2010, with the April 1, 2010, official tally of 672,591 residents falling just short of the state's peak population in 1930.

"We've had significant growth over this decade, something we haven't seen, literally, for half a century," said Richard Rathge, director of the North Dakota State Data Center at North Dakota State University in Fargo. "But we have to appreciate that the growth was fairly selective."

Among the state's bigger cities, West Fargo had the largest growth rate, increasing its population from 14,940 to 25,830 people. It is now North Dakota's fifth-largest city behind Fargo, Bismarck, Grand Forks and Minot.

Rich Mattern, West Fargo's mayor, said the increase was not surprising. West Fargo's population has been rising briskly because a recently built diversion channel offers protection from the Red River Valley's frequent spring floods, Mattern said Wednesday.

"Based on the housing development plans we have coming in, things look good for at least the next three to five years," Mattern said. "A lot of it has to do with the diversion that we have. ... People do appreciate flood protection."

Fargo's population rose by 16.5 percent since 2000, to 105,549 people, and the number of Bismarck residents increased 10.3 percent, to 61,272, the newly released data show. Minot, on the edge of western North Dakota's oil boom, grew by almost 12 percent, to 40,888 people.

Grand Forks' growth rate was less robust. Census figures show it grew 7.1 percent during the last decade, to 52,838 people. Grand Forks County's population increased only 1.1 percent.

Cass County, which includes Fargo and West Fargo, grew almost 22 percent, to 149,778 people. Burleigh County, which includes Bismarck, grew 17.1 percent, to 81,308.

A substantial increase in North Dakota's oil production in the last four years didn't translate into a big population increase for most oil-producing counties.

Census data show 12 of North Dakota's 17 oil-producing counties lost population in the last decade. Billings, Bottineau, Burke and Golden Valley counties all lost more than 10 percent of their residents.

The biggest gainer was Mountrail County, in northwestern North Dakota, which saw its population rise almost 16 percent, to 7,673 residents.

McKenzie County grew almost 11 percent, and the population of neighboring Williams County grew more than 13 percent. The city of Williston, which is in Williams County, increased its number of residents by almost 18 percent, to 14,716 people.

Williston Mayor Ward Koeser said he and other city officials believe the city's actual population is about 17,000. The city has been growing rapidly with North Dakota's increased oil production, which averaged more than 342,000 barrels daily in January.

"It's good growth, don't get me wrong," Koeser said. "But we feel we have more (people) than that."

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