Emails show Grand Forks officials received complaints about LM Wind Power weeks before outbreak

Published: May. 4, 2020 at 6:49 PM CDT
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Emails obtained by Valley News Live show that the city of Grand Forks received complaints from employees weeks before a coronavirus outbreak happened at LM Wind Power Plant.

Nine hundred people work there and 124 tested positive for COVID-19, according to Grand Forks Public Health.

The emails, which we got through an open records request, detailed how on March 22 an engineer at the plant notified Grand Forks officials that management was reportedly not taking the pandemic seriously.

As opposed to the health department investigating, the city allowed Grand Forks Regional Economic Development Corporation President and Chief Executive Officer Keith Lund to look into it, according to emails.

We asked Lund whether it should’ve been a health expert instead.

“I can't answer that Joshua. As I mentioned earlier in this interview, it's uncharted territory for all of us. People are learning as they go,” Lund said.

Lund and the city in an interview stood by that decision, saying Lund has had a 20 year relationship with the company.

“I offered to contact LM Wind Power as a courtesy to let them know a complaint had been filed,” Lund said.

In the email dated March 23, Lund said he spoke with the plant manager a week before the complaint. Yet, he tells us the topic of employees potentially having COVID-19 didn’t come up.

“Not at all. It was really just a, how are you fairing? How's business? Interested in the company. Interested in their industry. Interested in their supply chain,” Lund said.

In that same email, Lund also told the city he wasn’t sure whether the plant was following the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines.

“I guess my reason for characterizing my comments that way is that I'm not a public health official. And I wouldn't have any way to ascertain whether or not CDC guidelines, or other recommendations, were being followed,” Lund said.

A city spokesman said Grand Forks received two complaints from employees about LM Wind Power. One on March 22 through the city’s website and the other on March 23 by phone.

Yet, the spokesman said it first learned of a positive case at the plant on April 14.

A spokesman for General Electric, which owns LM Wind Power, said the safety of its employees remains its number one priority and it will reopen the plant when it is sure appropriate safety measures are in place.

The plant has been closed since its first positive case.