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The nearly completed Griggs County Courthouse in Cooperstown, N.D., sits idle after contractors halted work in May due to missed payments. Eric Hylden / Forum News Service

Griggs County courthouse project stalled over payments

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COOPERSTOWN, N.D. – The nearly completed Griggs County Courthouse and Emergency Operations Center remains idle more than three months after construction crews walked off the job over payment issues.

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While the project remains at a standstill, the county is making some progress in obtaining a $1 million federal grant awarded to build the EOC portion of the $3.5 million project.

The North Dakota Department of Emergency Services has released two payments totaling nearly $160,000 to the county, according to department spokeswoman Cecily Fong.

“We continue to review the documentation submitted by Griggs County,” she said.

The agency still is holding back about $829,300.

Construction Engineers, the project’s Grand Forks-based general contractor, and subcontractors halted work on the project May 2 after the contractor said the county was overdue on paying $170,000 in bills. The project is estimated to be 90 to 95 percent completed.

The dispute involves the $1.25 million Emergency Operations Center portion of the project.

The EOC, which is connected to the new courthouse, is being financed through a $1 million federal grant, administered through the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services. The county is required to contribute – and has paid – its 25 percent local match.

The Griggs County project is unique in that it involves two separate projects rolled into one contract, with each controlled by a different group. That’s the result of a recall election last October in which all five county commissioners were defeated.

The recall was prompted by the former County Commission’s decision earlier in 2013 to proceed with building a new courthouse and adjacent EOC, despite voters’ rejection of three separate bond issues to finance different versions of the project.

The commissioners then formed a private, nonprofit organization to issue $2.2 million in bonds to pay for it over 20 years, as well as to oversee the project.

Normally, that poses no problems because the County Commission and the Building Authority usually are composed of the same people. But the recall changed that.

The original federal Department of Homeland Security EOC grant was awarded in January 2012.

However, money cannot be released until the state Department of Emergency Services receives proper documentation that federal funds are being spent only to reimburse the county for money the county has spent for just the EOC, and not for the courthouse portion of the project.

The county has until September 2015 to comply with grant regulations or lose the federal funding.

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