A federally-funded project to build a new border entry station in North Dakota is on hold - after ten million dollars has been spent.
The Portal border crossing project is in limbo because of a problem related to the positioning of the building itself.
Dan Erdmann was in Portal today to find out about the multi-million dollar mix-up.
(Dan Erdmann, KX News) What happens when work on a 28 million-dollar port of entry project is suddenly haulted? Well, the simple answer is- nothing.
(Anita Arnold, Portal City Council) "We all just went, "They just don't stop a project like that." but I guess they do, and I guess they can."
(Dan Erdmann, KX News) Anita Arnold is a city council member in Portal, North Dakota- one of the state's busiest entry points into Canada. Since last spring, she says many changes have taken place in and around this multi-million dollar facility. Now, the U.S. General Services Administration is telling city leaders it may be awhile before any work continues.
(Anita Arnold, Portal City Council) "They had sent come communication that the reason the project is at a standstill, it has to do with the entry from Canada into the new port. There's a problem with the road as it enters the port."
(Dan Erdmann, KX News) The conflict in design was enough to shut down nearly all operations by mid-January. Alutiiq, the Alaska-based company in charge of the main construction, layed off several local employees hired on to help. Sub-contractors, many of which are still waiting to receive money for their work have also pulled the plug for the time being. The sudden absence of construction crews has also led to an abrupt decrease in local commerce.
(Julie Kreklau, Gastrak Manager) "Business is definitely quieter now. Without all the guys staying in the motel, we've gone from pretty much a full-capacity, to just a few rooms rented at a time. Our lunch crowd has slowed down a little bit, business is still good, but it's a lot quieter. We've definitely noticed the difference without the guys around here."
(Dan Erdmann, KX News) Other nearby communities, like Lignite, are also seeing those same trends. DJ's Foods owner, JoAnn Ellis, says many port workers had become common visitors to local businesses.
(JoAnn Ellis, DJ's Foods Owner) "A lot of the workers have stayed in Lignite, rented places because they assumed it was going to be a very long-term job, possibly 5 years when they started."
(Dan Erdmann, KX News) Ellis' son was one of the last remaining Alutiiq workers to be layed off. She says he and about a dozen more local employees are now in search of other jobs, while the long process of design negotiations continues.
(JoAnn Ellis, DJ's Foods Owner) "They boarded up what they could board up, just for security reasons, and just kind of sealed up the building."
(Dan Erdmann, KX News) Local residents are unsure what plans lie ahead for the half-completed facility. Arnold says the contract bidding process will likely begin again, which will slow the process even further.
(Anita Arnold, Portal City Council) "Everybody was excited to see it finished."
(Julie Kreklau, Gastrak Manager) "I'm hoping the project gets going again real soon, and we can get the motel filled back up and get our crowd back again. It's good business for us, and we enjoy having the guys around here."
(Dan Erdmann, KX News) "With progress at a standstill at the new port of entry and no clear resolution in sight, it could be several more months before any sort of traffic passes through these gates. In Portal, Dan Erdmann, KX News."
So what's next at Portal? Officials say a design change could be required - but that would mean negotiations among agencies on both sides of the border.
In addition, we're told it's possible Alutiiq, the general contractor, may not be the company that eventually finishes
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