A Grand Forks committee unanimously agreed Tuesday night to recommend extending a water agreement with Northern Plains Nitrogen through the end of 2016, giving the company another 12 months to move ahead with plans to build a $2 billion fertilizer facility north of the city.
The city's Service and Safety Committee recommended 3-0 to extend the letter of intent for NPN. The proposed extension now goes before the City Council.
Calvin Coey, project manager for the facility, said the move comes as NPN officials continue to seek project funding, though he declined to say how much is still needed. Without the requisite investments in the project, it's not clear when officials with NPN would first break ground.
"We're not where we intended to be in terms of funding the project and progress," he told the Herald prior to the meeting. "It's just taking a little bit longer than we expected. The city is looking to extend that agreement so we have that opportunity."
The fertilizer plant project has been in the public eye for the past several years, first cementing a "letter of intent" with the city in 2013 for water, stormwater and wastewater services at their proposed facility. The water agreement is vitally important for the group and for the processes behind fertilizer manufacture, City Administrator Todd Feland said. NPN is likely to develop into a more formalized agreement for services once the plan for the facility becomes more definite.
Feland added he's cautiously optimistic about the project's future.
"I think we have some progress, which is positive," he said. "But the amount of investment they are trying to drive to the project is significant, and a lot of that is out of our control."
City Council member Crystal Schneider, a member of the committee, said she's not worried about the project's future, calling the potential economic impact "huge."
"It's going to create a lot of jobs in the city and the region, and it's also going to provide a great resource to farmers in the region who need the product they're going to provide," she said.
The committee also voted 3-0 to recommend City Council approval of a request to transfer liquor licenses from both locations of Happy Harry's Bottle Shop to a newly formed company, part of a plan to transfer ownership of the liquor store to employees.
Hal Gershman, a co-owner of Happy Harry's with his wife, Kathy, declined to offer extensive comment, noting that the process to transfer ownership is still underway.
"Things seem to be progressing well," he said.
The committee heard a presentation about parking lot renovations near an Acme Tools location at 1702 12th Ave. N. that began blocking a city right of way within the last several weeks.
That right of way is a pathway connecting 12th Avenue North and 13th Avenue North on which vehicles are expected to have unobstructed access. The pathway runs between multiple parcels of Acme Tools property.
Feland said the land can easily appear to be part of a parking lot.
A nearby resident appeared before the City Council to express concerns among himself and his neighbors about decreased traffic access in the area, and Feland said the issue is expected to go before the city Planning and Zoning Commission soon.
"The city discussed it with Acme Tools, and they initially saw it as simply being a driveway to a parking lot," said Jerry Murray, a spokesman for Acme Tools. "And as such, the type of project required no significant review or approval."
Murray added the company intends to submit an application at the city's request to keep the new construction in place.
Feland said the city was aware of the project.
"I think city officials on the project were working in good faith that this was a parking lot, and I think that Acme officials were working on the same premise," he said.
He added Acme's forthcoming application will give city officials the chance to review the project and determine its future, though he did not say who would be financially responsible for its removal.