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Council hears bad news on highway project costs

By Sue Sitter - | Oct 9, 2021

Rugby City Council members had an unpleasant surprise from an engineering representative working on a long-delayed North Dakota Department of Transportation project on N.D. Highway 3 running through the city at their regular meeting Oct. 4.

Donovan Breen of Brosz Engineering, Stanley, presented the council with a list of infrastructure expenses he said would not be covered by the state and federal highway funds paying for the road project.

The city had already set aside $300,000 for their portion of work on a storm drain system connected with the project. The system runs under Highway 3. After several setbacks since the project’s proposal in 2018, the city increased their project fund balance to $441,000. At the meeting, Breen gave members a list of expenses for manhole covers, PVC sewer pipes, water main pipes and other materials for city infrastructure. The materials would add $342, 310 to the money the city already needed to pay, plus a 10 percent engineering fee, for a total of $376,541.

Council members expressed shock and disappointment at news of the increase, which put the city’s costs for the project at nearly $800,000.

“The DOT is paying 100 percent of the city’s utilities that are impacted for the new storm drain system,” Breen said. “There are impacts on Second Street and Third Street with the sewer. And there’s some water impacts on the north and on First Street. So, what I’m here to discuss with the city is what they want to do with the remaining utilities that are there.”

Breen said the highway project would remove concrete, giving the city an opportunity to repair infrastructure underground. Breen added any damage to city infrastructure caused by the highway work would be paid for by the DOT.

Breen said the work would be paid for by state and federal funds. However, the funds would not pay for infrastructure “not impacted” by the construction.

Council members expressed surprise at the new information about the increase in the city’s portion of the project.

“Now, you’re coming to us with another $376,000?” Council Member Neil Lotvedt asked Breen.

“That’s if you want to replace your utilities underneath the highway,” Breen said.

“I was under the understanding that you were going to come back to Second and Third Street to our first manhole, move it off the middle of the highway, move it to Second and Third Street and tie into our existing sewer there. So, tell me, on Second and Third Street, what part are you saying is our cost?” Lotvedt asked.

“On Second, Third and Fourth, the sewer and water runs east to west. Right now, the sanitary sewer manholes are in the center of North Dakota Highway 3,” Breen explained. “What we want to do, because the storm drain is now going to run down the middle of N.D. 3, we wanted to move those sanitary manholes to the east. So, moving that manhole has an impact on the storm drain. The state is paying for that. We’re going to pay for 25 or 30 feet of line to get to a new manhole.”

Breen added, “From the center of the road to the west, that would not be impacted by the storm drain. So, roughly from the center of the highway, roughly 40 feet is where the concrete’s going to go.”

Lotvedt, Rugby Mayor Sue Steinke and other council members said they had seen different plans before.

Changes from prior plans presented to the council include keeping a manhole in its present location on the highway near Fourth Street Southwest, and boring holes in the ground to place a storm drain under the highway instead of digging deep trenches.

Breen said project officials decided to choose boring as an option after considering the impact on the section of highway running under the BNSF underpass in Rugby.

“This is the first time we’re seeing any of this,” Steinke said of the changes in the plan and the new costs.

Council members and City Engineer Jim Olson also expressed concerns about how newer pipes from the highway project would connect to the city’s clay underground pipes, some of which date to 1914. Olson said the older pipes would likely crumble.

Breen told the council the DOT would not pay for work to the west of the storm drain system, however, the state would pay for any damage to city pipes done by the project. “For your sanitary sewer to the west, those won’t be impacted by the storm drain,” Breen said.

“This project is affecting our infrastructure,” Lotvedt said to Breen. “Why are they going to pay for the construction site only?”

“Because this project is being funded by federal highway funds,” Breen answered. “The city utilities, unless they’re impacted are not federally eligible.”

Breen said plans to expand a curve west of where the highway intersects with First Street have not been changed.

The council decided to refer the project to the city public works and finance committees.

Council members voted 4-3 to turn ownership of street lights over to Otter Tail Power Company. Otter Tail representative Scott Sigette told the council the utility company would replace light fixtures in the city with standard aluminum poles and LED lights. Lighting in parts of the city along Highways 2 and 3 would be replaced as needed. Sigette told the council the city would receive a franchise fee of $2 per meter to help cover maintenance costs. Sigette added the poles would be able to support banners and poles to hang planters on them.

Council member Maurus Brossart asked if the utility company would extend the light poles to the area near the site of Rugby’s new hospital. Sigette offered to provide a cost estimate for additional lighting.

Sigette said the poles would be replaced a section at a time. “All the old lights would remain until we’re done, so you’re never without lights,” he added. Sigette said under the agreement, the city would be responsible for pouring the concrete for the poles’ foundations.

Council members Gary Kraft, Neil Lotvedt, Maurus Brossart and Dave Bednarz voted to turn ownership of the lighting system over to Otter Tail, while Wayne Trottier, Frank LaRocque and Joel Berg voted “no.”

Council members also heard an update on new hospital construction from Heart of America Medical Center CEO Erik Christenson. Christenson told the council Fargo architecture firm JLG had held workshops with staff to determine the size of the building and make sure the structure “fits the people and culture of Rugby.”

Christenson added the hospital board and steering committee were considering two design options for long term care needs. One option would place a long-term care unit within the hospital, while the other would call for a separate long term care building. Christenson said the hospital would hold a town hall meeting in the future to discuss the two options with the community.

The hospital board and steering committee have also chosen construction management firm JE Dunn to develop cost estimates.

Christenson said hospital officials had set a tentative ground breaking date for the new site in October 2022 “pending financing.”

Fundraising efforts for the new hospital would come from USDA Rural Development grants and a capital campaign through Catholic Development Group.

“Compeer will be our financier for this project,” Christenson added.

Christenson encouraged council members and the general public to attend hospital steering committee meetings, held every other week in Heart of America Medical Center’s Fox Auditorium. The steering committee will hold its next scheduled meeting Oct. 20 at 7 p.m.

In other business, council members heard reports from recreation, public works, public safety and buildings committees. The council also approved a second reading of Ordinance 432, which covers annual budget appropriations.

Council members also voted to grant a 20-foot easement from property owned by council member Brossart and his wife, Sandy. Brossart abstained from the vote. Council members also voted to approve a proposal letter received from the North Dakota DOT to grant frontage road access to the site of the new hospital. The City of Rugby would agree to match state funds for the road. Council member Trottier, who sits on the hospital’s board of directors, abstained from the vote.

Council members also voted to use some of the $206,000 in federal American Rescue Plan funds received for COVID relief to pay city workers who stayed on duty during the pandemic in 2020. City workers in all departments including the police department who worked in 2020 will each receive $1,000 before taxes in a one-time payment for their service.

Council members also reviewed complaints on unmaintained properties around the city. City Attorney Bill Hartl told the council one property, which had suffered a fire more than two years ago, had been scheduled for demolition, with costs to be paid by the owner’s estate. The council voted to send the property owner a letter offering the owner one chance to remove any property before the building is destroyed.

The council also voted to approve a new list of committee members for 2021. Berg, Lotvedt and LaRocque will sit on the recreation committee, while Bednarz, Kraft and LaRocque will sit on the public works committee. Trottier, LaRocque and Bednarz will serve on the personnel committee, with city employee Candy Munyer as a non-voting member. Kraft, Trottier and Bednarz will serve on the finance committee. Public safety committee members are LaRocque, Trottier and Brossart. Planning and zoning committee members are Trottier, Kraft, Steinke, Hartl, Building Inspector Wayne Schmaltz, and resident Dave Anderson. Renaissance zone committee members are Steinke and Job Development Authority Director Karl Frigaard. Kraft, Brossart and Council Member Matt Lunde will serve on the ordinance committee. Berg, Lotvedt and Brossart will serve on the buildings committee. Gary Lee, NDSU Pierce County Extension Agent Brenden Klebe, Rugby resident Tim Bartsch, Jr. and city employee Troy Munyer will serve on the tree committee.

Council members also approved minutes and financials from their Sept. 7 meeting. The city council will next meet Nov. 2 at 7:30 p.m.

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