The Grand Forks County Commission on Tuesday, April 6, took steps to address drainage issues between Grand Forks and Traill counties, and moved to extend the countywide burn ban enacted at the end of March.

The commission previously enacted a temporary burn ban on March 29. That ban technically expired on Monday, April 5. The new burn ban issued Tuesday at the County Commission's regular meeting will be in place indefinitely, until the commission revokes it, which could happen if the weather changes. Alongside the ban comes a fire emergency declaration, in recognition of the drought conditions that have sparked a number of fires in the region recently.

“The governor did issue a statewide fire emergency, I believe, on April 1, so we would like you, as a body, to continue this fire emergency for us,” Kari Goelz, director of emergency management, told the commission.

The ban carries the weight of a Class B misdemeanor, with a penalty of up to 30 days in jail or a fine of up to $1,500 per incident.

Commissioners set a hearing for a later date in April to address a drainage project in nearby Thompson. The project flows from Grand Forks County to Trail County, and requires the joint water board to acquire portions of land from 22 landowners for the seven-mile project. Of those landowners, 21 have signed off on offers of compensation, but one holdout remains and the board is proceeding with the eminent domain process to continue the project.

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According to Chris McShane, an attorney working with the board, months of negotiations with the landowner have been in vain. Commissioners will hold a public hearing with that individual on May 18, concerning the quick take process, and a letter will be sent to the owner, who lives in Washington, D.C.

Prior to the regular commission meeting on Tuesday, commissioners met at 2 p.m., as the County Administrative Service Committee, to discuss a potential program that would buy out landowners in the county who live in areas routinely impacted by flooding. This meeting, held jointly in the County Office Building and online, was marred by continued technical difficulty, which caused commissioners to ultimately end the meeting at the halfway point.

The program would buy out three interested landowners in Manvel and Arvilla, for 75% of the appraised value of their homes, and cover the majority of the demolition costs for those buildings. When those areas flood, the homes become accessible only by boat. One home is served by a bridge that the county could then take down, thus removing the expense of continued repairs. Those areas have had major flooding four times in the last two years. The program will be discussed at a subsequent meeting.

In other commission news:

  • The commission will work with the Metropolitan Planning Organization to submit a proposal to the federal government for funding for a long-sought Merrifield bridge over the Red River. According to Commissioner Bob Rost, the U.S. House of Representatives is asking communities to submit plans for funding for the top five projects in a region. He said a Merrifield bridge takes priority.

    The request for funding for the $31 million project must be submitted by April 16. The county would need to put up more than $6 million for the bridge, which could be split with another entity -- the state, for example, or Polk County. County Engineer Nick West told commissioners he would work on the proposal.

    “As with any grant program, if you don't submit there's no chance of getting anything,” West said.

  • Commissioners authorized the sale of nearly $4.6 million in lease revenue bonds. The sale of those bonds essentially restructures debt the county has taken on for expensive, long-term projects. Selling the bonds now, when interest rates are low, will save the county more than $200,000 in interest payments.

  • The North Dakota Insurance Reserve Fund will return $81,000 to the county. The NDIRF is returning $6.3 million to its members due to good returns on the fund’s investments, among other reasons.

  • Commissioners proclaimed the week of April 11 as National Public Safety Telecommunicators week, in recognition of Grand Forks’ 911 dispatch operators. Rebecca Ault, director of the Grand Forks Public Safety Answering Point, told commissioners that dispatch staff received 94,847 calls for service in 2020, the most ever recorded. In 2019, there were 91,714 calls.

    “I do have a proclamation that is on hand for Commissioners each to sign, but it's just a nice recognition of staff and the fine work that they do,” Ault said.