Grand Forks' regional emergency training center still in the works
Grand Forks city leaders are still working toward a multi-state emergency training center that could improve readiness for rail and other disasters, but few details are available on the project.
“It’s hard to tell when it will become concrete,” said Pete Haga, community and government relations officer for the city. “Honestly, it could be years before something significant happens.”
While the project has no timeline, he said city leaders would like to see progress soon.
The idea to expand the Grand Forks’ training center into a multi-state operation came up in March after the city’s Legislative Committee met with Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D. The meeting included discussion of the rail safety concerns that sparked statewide after a train carrying crude oil derailed in Casselton, N.D., causing an explosion and major spill, in December.
Since that initial idea, city leaders have met with representatives of Grand Forks Air Force Base and BNSF Railway, Haga said, but partnerships are “still in the works.” Another likely partner is Grand Forks County, he added.
After a meeting with BNSF, city and company officials agreed that they could work together toward better safety and hazardous materials training, and more meetings are planned, said City Administrator Todd Feland.
The city’s meetings with the base aren’t just for partnering on emergency training, he said. While the city already works with the base, he said, recent meetings aim to improve their partnership in the areas of public health, public works and safety.
In addition to first responders and hazardous materials training, conversations on the training center proposal have expanded to include law enforcement training, Haga said.
There are some ambitions to seek federal funding for the training center, but there have not been any conversations at the federal level yet, he said. City leaders first want to get a better scope of local training needs, he said.
Last month, Heitkamp announced legislation with $2 million dedicated to first responders training for incidents involving hazardous materials transported by rail.
Haga said the Grand Forks project will likely include some state funding and private sector funding.
“Any additional training would always help us,” said Fire Chief Peter O’Neill, adding that the closer to home it is the better because it is more expensive to send firefighters and officers away for training.