Contractors across Williston got a surprise visit from a team of state inspectors this week, and for a few illegal operators, that meant hefty fines and a visit from Border Patrol.

The North Dakota Contractor Compliance Task Force – a group of state officials working for a variety of departments –searched construction sites in Williston on Tuesday and Wednesday, making sure contractors’ papers were in order.

“What the attorney general and other elected officials want to do is, in addition to protecting consumers and property owners, to ensure that it is a level playing field for contractors,” said Parrell Grossman, director of the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division.

Although most contractors were following the rules, there were a handful breaking the law.

By Wednesday morning, they had visited 24 locations with a total of 66 contractors. The task force had found five unlicensed contractors, one contractor with a pending license and another with a license pending renewal. They also discovered two illegal immigrants who were detained by U.S. Border Patrol.

When Border Patrol officers showed up to the site where the two illegal immigrants were detained, several other people jumped into a vehicle and left, Grossman said.

“Frankly, we have found a very good compliance rate overall,” Grossman said. “By and large the majority of the general and subcontractors are in compliance with the various licensing and registration laws. So we’re very pleased with that.”

It’s not the first time the task force has done these type of spot inspections. Because of the boom in the construction industry, they began compliance checks in Williston last summer, and found similar numbers of unlicensed operators, Grossman said.

The task force checked paperwork including licenses with the secretary of state’s office, registration with Workforce Safety and Insurance, as well as the state tax department and attorney general’s office. They also checked to make sure contractors were registered with North Dakota Job Services.

Fines imposed by the attorney general generally run between $500 and $2,000, but can be higher depending on the violation. The secretary of state also triples the licensing fee for those caught working without the proper paperwork.

Grossman said the goal isn’t to just hammer those breaking the law, but to get them into compliance so they can work legally and safely. After an unlicensed contractor pays the fine and fills out the paperwork, it often takes only a day or so for them to get back on the job.

As the task force checked out the contractors working on the new Horizon Resources office and warehouse building on Second Street West, two contractors from Williston-based American Builders Inc. said they were happy to see somebody is watching.

“This is good for us,” said Shane Lockwood. “We want to make sure all our contractors are legit.”

“This is good for Williston,” added Darin Kirby. “And we’re Williston people.”