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Water permits approved to supply proposed fertilizer plant in Grand Forks

BISMARCK -- The State Water Commission granted permission Friday for Grand Forks to pump additional water from its wastewater lagoons and the Red River to meet the needs of a proposed fertilizer plant and other industrial users.

Northern Plains Nitrogen is proposing a $1.85 billion, 340-acre fertilizer plant on the north edge of Grand Forks. Construction is scheduled to start next year, with startup expected in 2018.

The plant would produce about 1.5 million tons of fertilizer products per year.

To meet the plant's water demands, the city sought permission to pump 7,287 gallons per minute from its wastewater lagoons, or 11,755 acre-feet of water annually. Currently, the wastewater is treated and released back into the Red River.

But the wastewater wouldn't be enough to meet the plant's needs, so the city also asked to pump 4,165 gallons per minute from the Red River, or 6,717 acre-feet annually.

The State Water Commission has final authority over any water permit in excess of 5,000 acre-feet.

Commissioner Arne Berg jokingly asked, "Will this mean that we'll need to run the Devils Lake outlet year round?"

"There's plenty of water in the Red River without the outlet," Patch said.

Calvin Coey, Northern Plains project manager, told the Herald the company was applying to use 0.9 million gallons of treated potable water per day from the city of Grand Forks as a backup for the wastewater supply.

Coey said the company had submitted an application for an air permit from the state Department of Health, which he expected to receive in the next four to six months.

He called the water permits "just one bullet of the de-risking activities for investors" and said Northern Plains had secured most other required permits.

The commission also awarded $1.75 million to help Grafton cover the estimated $5 million cost of preliminary and design engineering for its proposed flood risk reduction project, which involves a flood bypass with tieback levees.

The city is looking at starting construction on the project in 2016, Mayor Chris West wrote in a letter to the commission. The project's cost estimate, last updated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2013, was $52.7 million.

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.

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