SPIRITWOOD, N.D. -- The Cargill Malt plant “went dark” at the end of October, completing a shutdown process announced in April. The company cited a change in the type of malt preferred by brewers as one of the reasons for the closing that cost the plant’s 55 employees their jobs.

The malting process steeps barley or other grains in water. The grain then germinates to convert starches to sugars before the malt is dried. The malt can then be fermented into alcoholic products, such as beer.

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The Spiritwood plant produced a variety of malts for large- and small-scale brewers. The plant also produced flour and cereal as byproducts.

An article about the plant’s closing last spring by the German publication Inside Beer called the Spiritwood plant one of the largest in the world, capable of producing 440,000 tons of malt per year.

Cargill may still be looking at repurposing the plant for another operation within the company, according to Connie Ova, CEO of the Jamestown/Stutsman Development Corp.

“We’ve had no new information since the (April) announcement,” she said.

When it made the announcement, Cargill said it would first look internally for another use for the plant before offering it for sale.

John Schneider, economic development and finance director for the North Dakota Department of Commerce, said there may be state funds available to explore potential uses, but requests would have to come from the JSDC.

Cargill also holds perfected rights to 4,180 acre-feet of water from the Spiritwood Aquifer, according to the North Dakota State Water Commission. This translates to nearly 1.4 billion gallons of water per year.

Perfected water rights mean the facility has been inspected by the North Dakota State Water Commission and has the capacity to use that quantity of water, according to Scott Parkin, hydrologist with the Water Commission.

Water rights can be canceled by the state of North Dakota if not put to a beneficial use for three years, Parkin said. If the property is sold to another party, the party would also have three years to make use of the water or the rights could be canceled, he said.

Canceled water rights revert to the state of North Dakota and would be available for other organizations seeking water permits.

There also are questions regarding the effect closing Cargill Malt might have on property taxes in Stutsman County, according to Tyler Perleberg, Stutsman County director of tax equalization.

Cargill is the largest taxpayer in Stutsman County with a valuation of $46 million and a tax bill last year of about $393,000. The value of the property increased by $6 million in 2016 after an expansion of the railroad sidings at the plant. That amounts to about 2 percent of the total value of property subject to taxation in Stutsman County.

The location includes 207 acres and is assessed as industrial property.

“There is nothing that would force us to change the value unless they change the structure,” Perleberg said. “We wouldn’t change the value because it is not operating.”