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Costs higher than anticipated for trio of Baxter street projects

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news Brainerd, 56401
Brainerd MN 506 James St. / PO Box 974 56401

BAXTER — Costs were 12 percent higher or about $2,147 more per assessment than initially anticipated for the joint Franklin, Wildflower and Woida street project.

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For homeowners along the city streets, that means preliminary assessment calculations rose from $14,116 to $16,262.80.

The total project cost is estimated to be $3,197,697 — about $507,580 higher than the $2.69 million residents heard at the improvement hearing.

“I think we were all sitting here hoping it was going to be the other way,” Baxter Mayor Darrel Olson said.

Olson said the project is important to the entire city and not just a benefit to the immediate residents. With the bids, Olson said the project was a little further away than the council hoped and he didn’t know if there was a way to solve it without setting a precedent that was going to come back and bite the city council.

“Life would be better for so many people if we could do this project,” Olson said.

The project provides city water and sewer to residents. It also paves gravel roads on Wildflower and Franklin. Seven bids were received for the project with Pratt’s Affordable Excavating, Merrifield, coming in with the low bid of $2,541,600.50.

“I think we’ve come too far,” said council member Todd Holman, adding his personal opinion was for the city to pick up a larger portion of the dewatering costs. Dewatering involves the removal of water from the soil.

“I, too, feel if we can at least get this halfway I’d feel a lot better about it,” said council member Rob Moser about moving the assessment between the $14,116 and $16,262 marks without changing city policy.

Council member Mark Cross questioned whether the homes in the project would increase in value by $16,000 when it was all said and done. Cross said he wasn’t sure what the right number is for a residential lot in the city.

Olson said residents trying to sell homes with wells and septic systems in the project area were at a disadvantage when competing with other Baxter homeowners with municipal water and sewer.

“Will it make it more marketable? I think it will,” Olson said of the homes.

Council member Jim Klein said his gut feeling was if people appeal their assessment it will go down to $12,000 or $13,000. Olson said that is something the council doesn’t know the answer to. Klein was also in favor of working to lower assessment costs to get as close to $14,000 as possible.

“I think $16,262 is too much,” Klein said.

Council looks for ways to reduce costs to homeowners

The council considered its options to take another look at the numbers, at options to lower costs to residents and a timeline to still allow the project to be completed this year. Waiting, Walter said, would likely mean higher prices. One question before the council was whether the city should push forward in sending out assessment notices to residents with the higher number — noting it could still go lower — or wait until a lower number was established before sending the notices out.

In the end, Baxter City Council members voted to take the extra time. They voted to table two other items on Tuesday’s special meeting agenda until the council meets on May 6. Those agenda items included preparing the proposed assessment and a resolution establishing an assessment hearing. The council now expects to meet on May 27 for the assessment hearing and selected June 26 for the meeting date to potentially award the project. Staff estimated pushing the date back would only put the project behind schedule by two days.

In the meantime, the city council consensus was to look for ways to move the assessment costs for homeowners closer to the original estimate.

Cost drivers for the project included items not originally included in the estimate, along with costs that came in higher than anticipated for replacement sod and dewatering. Additionally, there were fewer assessable properties than initially thought.

One way to reduce costs to homeowners would be for the city to pick up more of the dewatering costs, which would mean changing the city’s policy to increase the city share.

Public Works Director Trevor Walter said most of the future projects are south of 210 and dewatering either won’t be needed or won’t be as intense. Walter said there are three more projects north of Highway 210 that are city driven more than development driven. He also noted the sod costs were higher as demand is increasing and two sod suppliers didn’t survive the Great Recession.

Walter noted there have been numerous previous failed attempts to re-establish lawns by seed and with sod there isn’t an erosion problem as is the case without it. With the initial plan, sod was estimated for every area where the lawn was being mowed. Staff noted even if the city went without sod, it would not cut the $100,000 entirely but could reduce it by half.

To get back to a $14,116 assessment would mean cutting $200,000, Walter said.

Items not in the original bid: $136,393 for a paved trail, $139,274 for Woida road utility extensions, $35,162 for ditching. The city is picking up the cost for the trail and ditching and it won’t be assessed to residents.

Aric Welch, engineer with Widseth Smith Nolting, told the council the remaining difference in price was attributed to utility construction, including dewatering and pipe costs. With the bid, dewatering costs are $300,000. The city is picking up $120,000 of the dewatering costs leaving $180,000 to be assessed to residents.

The dewatering process is so expensive because it means taking the groundwater down from possibly 5 feet below the surface in areas down to 25 feet deep for the construction work. Added to the mix are silty sand soils that take longer to dewater.

The water then is piped out of the area to where it can be safely discharged, meaning in this project it will travel 2 miles. It typically takes two weeks to set up the dewatering equipment and two weeks to take it down after it is no longer needed. While the dewatering equipment is in use it runs night and day, using fuel and staff time to make sure pumps are operational. The dewatering is expected to move enough water to fill a municipal water tower at least three times a day.

RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at 855-5852 or renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Dispatchbizbuzz.

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