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Here are Grand Forks' stories to watch in 2017

From a big election night to championship hockey to protests at the Dakota Access Pipeline site, 2016 was a big news year that brought a lot of big headlines to the Herald.

(Kari Lucin/Grand Forks Herald)

From a big election night to championship hockey to protests at the Dakota Access Pipeline site, 2016 was a big news year that brought a lot of big headlines to the Herald.

But 2017 is shaping up to be big, too. Here's a look at some of the biggest things happening in Grand Forks right now-and what to expect now that the new year is here.

Sales tax and library

Grand Forks leaders made appearances around the city, on the radio and in print to try and get a sales tax increase passed Nov. 8, but to no avail. Voters defeated a 0.75 percent hike at the polls with 56 percent of the vote.

That's left city leaders disappointed over missed $7.75 million in annual revenue that would have been used on local infrastructure and water projects, and Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown has said he'd like to give voters another look as soon as possible.


City Council President Dana Sande said Grand Forks leaders could start discussing the future of the sales tax-currently set at 1.75 percent locally plus 5 percent statewide-as soon as a council work session on Jan. 9. If they do, they're expected to talk about ways it might be different than the last one to make it palatable to voters, such as a shorter duration and a more specific list of projects.

The tax could show up on the ballot sometime during the middle of 2017 alongside the Arbor Park referendum.

And, Sande has said, passing the sales tax might bring the Grand Forks Public Library, the future for which has been a subject of debate for years, back into the spotlight.

"What it would do ... is take something off our plate and make room for a discussion," he said.

Arbor Park

The city looks all but set to hold a special election on the future of Grand Forks' Arbor Park-a vote with big implications for the downtown area.

The city has been considering development at the 15 S. Fourth St. pocket park for more than six months, seeking out proposals to develop the space and approving a deal to sell the land in November. The project presents a five-story, $7 million building with condos and retail space, something proponents say would be a big boost downtown, and something that might have seen construction in 2017.

But on Nov. 14, a group of park proponents blocked the deal by turning in a petition to preserve it-calling for the city to sell the park to a caretaker-with more than 4,600 signatures.


The City Council is now expected to send a vote on the petition language to the public, though only 2017 will tell when-or how-that will happen.

UND budget

Officials at UND are keeping a close eye on state funding. With commodity prices in flux and recent budget cuts still making waves on campus, university officials have said they're carefully considering how funding from Bismarck will affect their bottom line.

"It's not our choice as to what they do," Kennedy said of state leaders in early December. "We need to make the best case for our choice, but we also need to make sure we plan to have the best response to whatever the conclusion is."

Ag prices

Several years of low ag prices have farmers saving grain until they can sell it for more.

Despite heavy rains, farmers in North Dakota reported record yields, especially with corn. But since prices were at 10-year lows for several crops, farmers took to storing small grains. Storage already was in high demand after producers stored the 2015 crop, making space harder to find. Though rain drowned a large portion of the potato crop, causing a spike in prices, it's a different story for other crops, meaning farmers will be watching the markets closely for the best time to sell.



2017 will bring several high-profile trials with connections to the Grand Forks area.

Delvin Shaw, who was previously convicted of the 2014 slaying of Jose Luis Lopez, will have his case retried beginning Feb. 21 in Grand Forks County District Court. Shaw is representing himself in the retrial.

Krystal Feist, accused of murdering 24-year-old Austin Brant Forsman, of Grand Forks, at the Flying J Truck stop in March in connection to a methamphetamine trafficking ring, will go to trial in Federal Court in Fargo May 2. Feist faces three charges: death caused by use of a firearm during a crime of violence, murder in furtherance of a drug trafficking conspiracy and conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distribution of a controlled substance.

James Patrick Whalen, a former Central High School teacher accused of having a sexual relationship with a student, will go to trial in Minnesota and North Dakota in January. Whalen is scheduled for trial in Polk County Jan. 17 and in Grand Forks beginning Jan. 24 on sexual assault charges.


Minnesota hunters, wildlife managers and even politicians will be keeping a close watch on the recent case of three deer testing positive for chronic wasting disease in the southeastern part of the state. Efforts to confine the spread of the brain disease that's fatal to members of the deer family will be a big focus.

Aquatic invasive species also stand to be in the spotlight yet again, as the Department of Natural Resources and the North Dakota Game and Fish Department continue their efforts, both through legislation and education, to prevent the spread of undesirable species such as zebra mussels.

In North Dakota, a bill to implement a trespass law is expected to be introduced during the upcoming legislative session. If a trespass law passes, it would change the way hunters access private land, which currently is considered open to hunting unless posted.



2016 was North Dakota's wettest year on record, and with snow piling up in some parts of the state, is flooding on the horizon?

It's too early to tell, according to the National Weather Service, but flooding is always a concern, especially as Grand Forks approaches the 20th anniversary of the 1997 flood. Though the ground is saturated, Grand Forks is far behind snow depth recordings from 1996. That year ended with 33 inches for snow depth, and that measurement as of Thursday was 8.8 inches.

Devils Lake also ended the year with heavily saturated soil, and the 12 to 18 inches of snow the Lake Region received over the Christmas holiday doesn't help. Again, it's too early to tell, but officials are anticipating a flood forecast in late January or early February.

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