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Two Harbors Council moves CIP forward with alleys

The Two Harbors City Council ordered a feasibility report to be done on all of the 2018 Capital Improvement Plan roads and alleys. (News-Chronicle file photo)

The Two Harbors City Council approved moving forward with the feasibility report for the 2018 Capital Improvement Plan road and alley projects during a special meeting Oct. 5. The motion to move forward with the project was approved 6-0 with Councilor Jerry Norberg abstaining.

The City Council has been debating the 2018 CIP projects for the past couple of months. The main subject of that debate is whether or not the alleys should be in the CIP or be done in-house. The council had asked administration and city-hired engineer Joe Rhein, from Bolton and Menk, to get the numbers for how much it would cost for the alleys to be done in-house compared to having the projects contracted out.

In a side by side comparison of reconstructing the alleys to be gravel, for the 18 alleys scheduled in the CIP it would cost $937,360.34 to be done in-house. This price is based on 10 days of work to complete one block of alley, and the 18 alleys would take nine years to complete if handled in-house, compared to three years if contracted out.

"So it is roughly a little more than twice as expensive to do the alleys through an outside contractor than it is to do them through use of city forces," Rhein said. "This is not surprising and we fully anticipated that."

According to Rhein, the city crews have said they could complete a block of alley in a minimum of eight days under optimal conditions. It would still take nine years to complete the 18 alleys, as the crews could only do two alleys a year, but the cost could be as low as $789,462.63.

If the alleys are done in-house, the full cost would fall on the city. If the alleys are contracted out, the city would only pay for half of the $2.167 million estimated cost as the other half would be assessed to the owners adjacent to the improved alleys.

"The cost is just one of the factors that you have to take into consideration when looking at initiating this street and alley improvement program," Rhein said. "You have to factor such things as schedule, and if your crews are constructing those alleys, there are other things that they're not doing for those 10 days that may need to be done or have to be done on an overtime basis."

After the numbers came back on how much it would cost to do the alleys in-house, the city administrator, finance director, water superintendent, electrical superintendent, public works superintendent and Rhein sat down and discussed the options. According to Rhein, everyone from that group recommends the projects be contracted out, except for the public works superintendent who decided to remain neutral as it would be his crews who would be doing the work if done in-house. Norberg questioned why the water and electrical superintendents were included in this decision.

"We've been talking about the CIP with all of the department heads from the beginning because on some level it affects all of the department heads, such as stormwater improvements," said City Administrator Dan Walker. "We want to make sure that all of our department heads are sitting in the room so that we can get all of the information and let them have input on what the staff recommendation is, instead of having just administration alone."

While discussing the motion made by Mayor Chris Swanson and seconded by Councilor Miles Woodruff, Norberg said he felt that they shouldn't waste money on doing the feasibility report on the alleys if they were just going to come out of the project later and wanted a decision made on the alleys during the meeting.

"I don't see the point of discussing the alleys further if we are going to include them in the feasibility report now," he said.

Councilor Frank McQuade said he feels that the city needs to know exactly what the alleys will cost before deciding if they should be done in-house or not, and moving forward with the feasibility report is the first step to finding that out. Swanson expressed the same sentiment.

"At any way along the process we have the option of making changes. Tonight we are just moving forward to get this process moving so that we have a better understanding with what is going to happen and what the costs are," he said. "Everything to this point is an estimate, so we do not know the actual number and we don't know the scope of the project."

Because the city already paid Bolton and Menk for the feasibility report for the 2017 projects that are now being included in the 2018 project, the city will only have to pay the firm for work done on the three new alleys being added. Councilor Robin Glaser saw this as a reason to move forward with the alleys included.

"I think that by taking action tonight and getting the feasibility done, it's going to get us one more step closer to actually implementing a CIP for the city of Two Harbors and starting the work now instead of waiting another three years," Glaser said.

Adelle Whitefoot

Adelle Whitefoot is a Michigan native who moved to Minnesota in Sept. 2014 when she started as a reporter for the News-Chronicle. She graduated from Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Mich., in 2012 with a bachelor's in English writing and has been a professional photographer since 2011. Whitefoot is the beat writer for the Two Harbors City Council.

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