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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Questions remain over handling of harbor trail bid

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 10/3/18

TOWER—The city council here gave Tower City Clerk-Treasurer Linda Keith and city engineer Matt Bolf authority to renegotiate the cost of a recreational trail construction bid that far exceeded the …

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Questions remain over handling of harbor trail bid

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TOWER—The city council here gave Tower City Clerk-Treasurer Linda Keith and city engineer Matt Bolf authority to renegotiate the cost of a recreational trail construction bid that far exceeded the expected price tag. That’s despite the fact that the city’s bid request apparently failed to include construction of a half-mile of bituminous hiking and biking trail, which was a major component of the state grant that is supposed to pay for the project.

The council acted after balking at Keith’s original request to approve the bid, for $890,000, sight unseen, with the stipulation that Keith would try to rework the project scope to bring the costs in line with the $679,000 in project funding approved back in 2016 by the Legislative and Citizens Committee on Minnesota Resources, or LCCMR.

The sole bid, from Nordic Group, of Hermantown, was opened on Sept. 20, but Keith had none of the paperwork available for the council at their Sept. 26 special meeting. Keith told the council there were “discrepancies” in the bid, including higher-than-expected quotes for fencing and about 200 feet of floating dock and that the paperwork was currently in the possession of SEH, the city’s engineering firm.

While council members expressed concern about approving a renegotiation of the construction bid without seeing the actual paperwork, Mayor Josh Carlson said that he was willing to consider it given that the project attracted only one bidder.

Keith agreed that her request was unusual. “It’s kind of back-asswards from how I’d like to do it,” she said, but the project, which has languished on the city’s agenda for more than two years, is facing a funding deadline that would be difficult to meet if the city rebid the project.

The process has been unusual for several reasons. For one, the city clerk never sought authority from the council to issue a request for bids, which is standard practice on most city projects. Second, the council never approved the change in scope of the project at a public meeting, which would also normally be required.

The council did approve the grant award for the project back in 2016 and authorized SEH to proceed with planning on the project in June 2017, but it’s unclear if the council ever reviewed final plans or the bid documents. The project was supposed to include construction of a walkway around the harbor along with the bituminous trail connecting the city’s harbor zone to the Mesabi Trail near Hoodoo Point. It was also to include interpretive signage for both the trail and a planned kayak route encompassing the East and West Two rivers and a portion of Lake Vermilion’s Pike Bay.

It’s not clear whether the change in the scope of the project is compliant with the terms of the city’s grant. According to Michael Varien, a senior project analyst with the LCCMR, any change in the project would require approval of an amendment to the project’s scope, and the city of Tower has yet to apply for such a change. Varien said an amendment could be granted administratively if it were consistent with the intent of the original grant, but a more significant change would likely have to go back to the full LCCMR board for approval. “I don’t have anything requesting any change at this point,” Varien said.

Adding to the concern, the city received funding in 2017 for a related boat landing and trailhead kiosk, but it’s unclear how the kiosk will be of value without a connecting trail. City officials declined to respond to questions posed by the Timberjay regarding the handling of this project.

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