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Construction stalled: Federal grant complicated by leadership change

COOPERSTOWN, N.D. — The nearly completed Griggs County Courthouse/Emergency Operations Center stands idle six weeks after construction crews walked off the job over payment problems.

Meanwhile, the Griggs County Building Authority, a private, nonprofit organization formed to finance and manage construction, continues to work on paperwork necessary to receive funds from a $1 million federal grant to pay for the EOC portion of the $3.5 million project, according to County Auditor Cindy Anton.

Construction Engineers, the project’s Grand Forks-based general contractor, and subcontractors halted work on the project May 2 after the contractor said the county was overdue on paying $170,000 in bills. The project is estimated to be 90 to 95 percent completed.

The dispute involves the $1.25 million Emergency Operations Center portion of the project.

The EOC, which is connected to the new courthouse, is being financed through a $1 million federal grant, administered through the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services. The county is required to contribute — and has paid — its 25 percent local match.

Two projects

The Griggs County project is unusual in that it involves two separate projects rolled into one contract, with each controlled by a different group. That’s the result of a recall election in October in which all five county commissioners were defeated.

The recall was prompted by the former County Commission’s decision early last year to proceed with building a new courthouse and adjacent EOC, despite voters’ rejection of three separate bond issues to finance different versions of the project.

The commissioners then formed a private, nonprofit organization to issue $2.2 million in bonds to pay for it over 20 years, as well as to oversee the project.

Normally, that poses no problems because county commissions and county building authorities usually are composed of the same people. But the recall changed that.

The original federal Department of Homeland Security EOC grant was awarded in January 2012.

However, money cannot be released until Emergency Services receives proper documentation that federal funds are being spent as intended. The federal funds can only be used to reimburse the county for money spent on the EOC, and not for the courthouse portion of the project.

Anton said the Building Authority is still working to complete that documentation.

The county has until September 2015 to comply with grant regulations or lose the federal funding.

Most county offices are operating out of the historic Griggs County Courthouse, built in 1884 and the oldest North Dakota courthouse building still operating as a courthouse.

However, the social services and sheriff’s departments moved to other locations in 2010 after inspectors discovered mold in the building basement, where they were located, as well as other problems throughout the building.

The building is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Kevin Bonham

Kevin Bonham covers regional news, mostly from northeast North Dakota, for the Grand Forks Herald. A North Dakota native who grew up in Mandan and Dickinson, he has been a reporter or an editor with the Herald and Forum Communications for more than 30 years. Find his articles at: He welcomes story ideas via email,, or by phone, (701) 780-1110.  

(701) 780-1110