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By Kevin Bonham, Forum Communications Co., Published November 22 2009

Northwood recovery efforts continue

Twenty-seven months after an EF-4 tornado devastated the community of Northwood, N.D., killing one resident and injuring 18 others, recovery remains on the fast track.

The city is finishing up Phase I of a $3.6 million infrastructure project to replace a portion of the municipal water and sanitary sewer systems, City Administrator Marcy Douglas said.

Phase I covers the north and west portions of the city. Phase II, which will include Potato Road on the city’s east end, will be done in 2010.

The project also will include paving 35th Street, a north-south gravel road that leads to the new Northwood School.

The federal Economic Development Administration is providing $2.7 million toward the project through the economic stimulus package, or American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

New building

Meanwhile, private developers continue to invest in this Grand Forks County community of 950 about 40 miles southwest of Grand Forks.

A new 10-unit motel, along with a laundromat and campground complex, is being built along North Raymond Avenue, about three blocks south of North Dakota Highway 15, on the spot where a mobile home park was destroyed by the tornado and the site of the only fatality.

The Northwood Inn is expected to be open by April, according to Dave Korsmo, one of eight Northwood-area investors in the $550,000 project.

Carpenters are expected to begin work on the motel complex Monday, with walls planned to be erected by the middle of the week.

The Northwood Community and Commercial Club bought the land from the private owner and then sold it to the investor group.

The motel will feature a continental breakfast bar and a community room that also can accommodate small groups – 15 to 20 people – for community or business meetings. It also will include a two-bedroom apartment for a motel manager.

The complex will be handicapped-accessible and will offer cable television, telephone and internet connections.

The campground will offer six overnight spots with water, sewer and electrical outlets, plus cable TV and internet accessibility.

The commercial laundromat will replace Northwood’s only public laundromat, which was destroyed in the tornado.

Korsmo said investors polled local businesses and residents to measure the need for such a business.

He added that North Dakota sales tax revenue data shows that Northwood is competing well with other communities of its size and even larger.

“We compare with Mayville (N.D.), and that town has a college,” he said, citing Northwood Deaconess Health Center, Agvise Laboratories, two bean plants and two implement dealerships as economic attractions.

“We’ve got a lot of traffic that comes to town,” he said.

The project is financed through local banks and through a U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development loan program.

He expects the motel complex to have two full-time employees, including a manager, along with one part-time employee.

Korsmo is a partner in Korsmo Brothers Farm, Korsmo Brothers Trucking and Korsmo Brothers Dispatch, all located along Highway 15 in Northwood.

More to be done

In the meantime, the community is looking for investors to help redevelop portions of downtown Northwood that were destroyed by the tornado.

Two vacant Main Street properties failed to find any buyers at a Grand Forks County delinquent property tax sale this week.

Both lots, located at the intersection of Washington Avenue, carry large delinquent tax bills, to cover demolition costs. The outstanding bill on one property is more than $123,000, while the other is more than $49,500, said Ursula Nelson, of the county finance and tax office.

“Nobody wants to pay that kind of money for a lot out there,” she said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency paid for the building demolition, but the city has to repay FEMA for the local share of the project, according to Douglas.

Even without finding investors for the Main Street lots, community leaders are hopeful.

The water project is completed, while crews should finish the sanitary sewer portion before winter, Mayor Rick Johnson said. He expects the paving project to be completed by next summer.

While the infrastructure project is not yet quite complete, it is a major accomplishment, he said.

“We’ve come a long way in two years,” he said. “It’s good to see people investing in the community.”

Kevin Bonham is a writer for The Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.