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Cass highway contract awarded to Tri City Paving of Little Falls

LAKE SHORE — Cass County Board awarded a highway construction contract Tuesday to low bidder of five, Tri City Paving of Little Falls, for $2,001,836.56.

The award is subject to Minnesota Department of Transportation approval.

The project will include improvements to County Roads 166 and 136 and County State Aid Highways 39, 63 and 8.

The board also voted to award contracts to low bidders Parsons Electric LLC for $188,524.92 to install 15 rural road street intersection lights and to A and H Contracting LLC to install chevron signs on curves on county roads for $143,140.

That contract award was over objections from Commissioner Neal Gaalswyk, who said he viewed the expenditure as one using federal funds just because they are available and one which will cause the county ongoing costs in the future for electric usage and extra employee mowing time to go around the chevron sign posts.

The highway safety fund being used to pay for this is one former U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar added to a federal highway bill when he was chairman of the House transportation committee, according to County Engineer David Enblom.

Once the funds became available, Enblom explained, the state did a survey of possible fund uses that could prevent accidents on rural roads and determined the use of chevrons on unsafe curves and the use of street lights at rural intersections would be a good use of the money.

The county already has installed some rural highway street lights at intersections in prior years, but this is the first time this funding has been used to replace or install new chevron signs.

Enblom reported to the board he met June 25 with two Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) representatives, Beth Lockwood and Dan Card, to ask them to sign a letter of agreement with the county that is designed to improve communications between MPCA and the county.

The county board had approved the letter in March.

Enblom said the MPCA officials agreed with the concept outlined in the letter, but declined to sign the county’s agreement. They agreed instead to send the county a letter outlining their plan to improve communications in the future.

They also agreed to meet with Enblom and highway officials from other counties at a future state meeting to discuss MPCA communications with counties throughout the state.

This discussion resulted from the fact that in 2010, MPCA employees followed guidelines they have had in place that called for MPCA to communicate with counties only by email rather than to discuss on a highway construction site with county officials remedies they wanted a county to make at a site.

Cass was fined for a County State Aid Highway 1 project, because of delays in the county receiving emails instead of information at the construction site the same day as MPCA officials designated remedial work they wanted done.

MPCA, the county found, does have a formal agreement with Minnesota Department of Transportation to give verbal on-site change recommendations. The county sought the same type of agreement, but the response at this time is that they will receive a letter from MPCA, but no formal agreement.

The county recently ran into another problem with another state agency’s rules.

Kerry Swenson, county emergency management director, informed the county board Tuesday Minnesota Department of Commerce wants all the electric boxes replaced on 16 new solar powered outdoor public warning sirens installed around the county.

Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe awarded a contract in behalf of the band and Cass County to Starry Electric Inc. of Foley, to install the warning sirens throughout the county.

The boxes they used are the same as ones carrying a UL certified sticker, but the boxes do not have the sticker, Swenson said. Because these sirens run on a 12 volt battery, not wired electricity from the power grid and because they are a piece of communication equipment, they should not have to have the UL sicker, Swenson said, citing portions of the National Electric Code Book.

“This is dinging a small business for something that does not need to be done,” Swenson told the board, explaining that neither the band nor the county would have to pay to change the boxes if the state refuses to relent on their order.

“This hardly helps promote solar energy use,” Commissioner Jeff Peterson commented.

Swenson informed the board Tuesday that everything except one communications tower for the county’s ARMER radio system has been installed and is in operation. The final tower will be installed near Leech Lake Tribal Police Department in Cass Lake by October, he said.

Equipment warrantees on the new system will run one to five years, depending on the piece of equipment. Commissioner Jim Dowson suggested that, because the system installation cost the county less that initially anticipated (partially due to grants received), the county should set aside the savings as a fund for future operations and repairs.