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With $30 million more, GF water plant project keeps moving ahead

Grand Forks leaders are optimistic about the future of the city's planned water treatment plant, with some expecting work on the building's foundation to begin west of town as early as December.

Grand Forks City Hall (Herald photo/Sam Easter)
Grand Forks City Hall (Herald photo/Sam Easter)

Grand Forks leaders are optimistic about the future of the city's planned water treatment plant, with some expecting work on the building's foundation to begin west of town as early as December.

That optimism comes on the heels of $30 million in funding that was awarded to the project by the State Water Commission on Wednesday-an amount that previously had been appropriated by the Legislature.

The receipt of the money is a landmark event in what City Administrator Todd Feland calls a "flagship" project, which is set to replace the current water treatment plant in downtown Grand Forks. The new facility, he said, will complement the city's growth and use newer treatment technologies.

The project now has received $35 million in funding from the state, and the city is hoping for another $30 million in the 2017-2019 biennium from the Legislature that has "intent to fund" language. That's less binding than an allocation, Feland said, adding that sagging state oil revenues are a "concern" moving forward as leaders in Bismarck weigh spending.

But both he and City Council member Ken Vein said they are optimistic about the project's future.

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"We're going to work exceptionally hard to make sure that stays in there," Vein said, suggesting the city is going to lobby the necessary leaders to get the money the project needs.

The news comes as city leaders seek to raise sales tax rates. A measure headed before voters Nov. 8 would increase city sales tax rates from 1.75 to 2.5 percent, bringing the effective local tax rate to 7.5 percent. The increase would generate an estimated $7.75 million per year for the city if it were instituted next year, part of which would be used to fund the water treatment plant and match state funding-a requirement of accepting the funds.

The rest, city leaders have said, would be used to fund infrastructure work such as a proposed new Interstate 29 interchange.

If the measure doesn't pass, needed revenue likely will be collected through increased water rates. While those already are expected to increase 2 percent next year-with similar increases in the next three budgets-the failure of the sales tax would mean an additional 40 percent increase by 2022, which would fund both the new treatment plant and the Red River Valley Water Supply Project.

Other questions still hang over the future of the project. Recent estimates on the project have suggested costs could increase from about $130 million to as much as $148 million, Feland said, and that means the city has to figure out how to make up the difference. Right now, he said, it's possible city leaders would pursue a deal with the state that splits the extra $18 million in costs evenly, with $9 million from the state coming in the 2019-21 biennium.

But Feland said the project is worth it.

"This is the lifeblood of a community, this water treatment plant," he said.

Related Topics: TODD FELAND
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