WDAY: The News Leader

Published August 12, 2013, 08:37 AM

City of Devils Lake finally ready for growth

DEVILS LAKE, N.D. (AP) — After decades of battling the rising waters of Devils Lake, the city of the same name is starting to flourish.

DEVILS LAKE, N.D. (AP) — After decades of battling the rising waters of Devils Lake, the city of the same name is starting to flourish.

Devils Lake is getting a new big-box store, restaurant, hotel and manufacturer, along with more homes. The city also is considering building a convention and wellness center, the Grand Forks Herald reported.

"It's not crazy growth like in the oil patch of western North Dakota. It's growth in a reasonable way," said Chris Schilken, executive director of Forward Devils Lake, the local economic development corporation.

Five years ago officials recognized there was "room to grow" at Devils Lake thanks to its location on Highway 2 and good infrastructure, Schilken said. "And we're seeing it happen," he said.

The lake has risen more than 31 feet and quadrupled in size since 1993 because of a series of wet years. It reached a record elevation in 2011 but has dropped a bit since then.

The flood fight since the early 1990s has cost more than $1.5 billion, but the final pieces of flood protection infrastructure are nearing completion, and developer Rick LaFleur said the community is ready to grow.

"The lake has been an economic barometer of the community," he said. "Before, there were some issues that could stifle your future. But Devils Lake now is fully protected as a city. We have a community where you can plan for growth now."

A Walmart Supercenter is in the early stages of construction along U.S. Highway 2, with completion expected in 2014. A 60-room Sleep Inn is under construction across the street from the new Walmart, and an Applebee's restaurant also is being built along the highway.

Ultra Green, a manufacturer of biodegradable food containers made from wheat straw, is under construction in the former Noodles by Leonardo pasta plant. Officials expect to employ about 100 people by the end of the year and up to 350 within five years. Butler Machinery, a dealer of Caterpillar heavy equipment, is building an agricultural equipment sales and service branch just west of the city.

Last year saw construction of a High Plains Implement dealership, a $10 million expansion of Altru Clinic, a new Lake Chevrolet building downtown and a major addition to Summers Manufacturing, an agricultural equipment builder and dealer. About 50 housing units also were built, and that number will grow to at least 100 by the end of this year, with more planned next year.

"We're approaching about $20 million in building permits this year. That's above anything we've had before," Mayor Dick Johnson said. "I sure couldn't imagine five years ago that this would be happening."