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Devils Lake cow manure product company faces eviction

DEVILS LAKE, N.D.—A biodegradable products company that took the place of a failed business in Devils Lake could be evicted from a city-owned building after falling months behind on lease payments.

BioFiber owes the city $18,000, or three months worth of rent, for the building, said Rachel Lindstrom, executive director of the Devils Lake Economic Development Corp. The company has until Oct. 1 to make the payments, the Devils Lake Building Authority decided Tuesday. Otherwise, BioFiber will be evicted.

"I think anytime you are dealing with startups, this is a definite chance," Lindstrom said of the company's failure to make payments. "By all means, they were, I think, wholehearted and truthful in trying to make this happen. I think they still would like to. However, I just don't know if it is possible."

The situation comes two years after another biodegradable company shut down operations at the same building. Ultra Green opened in 2012 with the promise of hiring 300 to 350 workers who would make products out of wheat-straw pulp. In exchange, the city gave the company $2 million in incentives.

But Ultra Green's payroll never exceeded 50 employees, and it shut down in July 2015, prompting a lawsuit from the city so it could recoup the money from the incentive agreement. In the end, Ultra Green left the city with an $87,000 tax bill, but Devils Lake took ownership of the building, which is worth about $2.5 million.

In December, BioFiber signed a five-year lease with the hope of bringing up to 65 jobs to the area. It specializes in turning cattle manure into biodegradable products such as paper flower pots, paper and boards.

Devils Lake did not give BioFiber any incentive funds. The company hasn't started producing products, Lindstrom said.

The city has been in contact with the company, and Lindstrom said BioFiber is having internal issues. If BioFiber is evicted, the city will market the building for another business, she said.

Mayor Dick Johnson said he wants to see the company succeed, but the Housing Authority felt it was time to take action.

"We weren't going to get into a position where we lingered on," he said. "The longer it lingers, the harder it gets."

Several BioFiber representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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