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Work halts on Griggs County building: Workers say no wages paid for controversial courthouse, EOC

Construction apparently halted today on the nearly completed Griggs County Courthouse and Emergency Operations Center in Cooperstown in a dispute over payments.

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Al Olson, owner of Agassiz Mechanical, a Fargo plumbing, heating and cooling contractor, said his crews stopped working Friday morning after receiving a verbal request from Construction Engineers, the general contractor.

By noon, he was hauling equipment back to Fargo.

“Nobody’s getting paid,” he said.

He estimates the project is 90- to 95-percent completed.

Olson said his company has been paid about $130,000 so far, but has not received any payments since 2013. He said he has pay requests totaling about $90,000 that remain unpaid.

Members of the Griggs County Commission were not immediately available Friday. The commission was scheduled to meet Friday afternoon.

Ron Halvorson, chairman of the Griggs County Building Authority, which owns the new courthouse — until construction is completed — said the authority is up-to-date on all of its payments on the courthouse portion of the project.

“We just wrote out a check for $352,000 last week,” he said. “I don’t know why they’re not getting paid.”

The $2.2 million courthouse project is being financed through a 20-year bond.

Officials from Construction Engineers, based in Grand Forks, were not immediately available this afternoon.

Unusual 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 must contribute a 25 percent local match.

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

The recall was prompted by the then-County Commission’s decision early last year 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 bonds to pay for it and 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.

Construction Engineers threatened to walk off the job in February over payments, too.

However, after a contentious meeting with the County Commission and members of the Building Authority, the company agreed to continue working as long as the parties were working together to resolve the issues.

“Things are a mess there,” Olson said today. “Nobody’s been getting paid by the county.”

He said he will wait for news that the money issues are resolved.

“Once they get their funding squared away, we’ll be back,” he said.

Kevin Bonham

Kevin Bonham covers regional news, mostly from northeast North Dakota, for the Grand Forks Herald. A North Dakota native who grew up in Mandan and Dickinson, he has been a reporter or an editor with the Herald and Forum Communications for more than 30 years. Find his articles at: He welcomes story ideas via email,, or by phone, (701) 780-1110.  

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