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Kristen Daum, Published September 07 2009

West Fargo moves ahead on bridge project

Crews plan to return to work Tuesday on a West Fargo bridge construction project that’s two months behind schedule and might cost nearby residents, or the city, another quarter-million dollars.

In June, construction began on a $1.6 million project to rebuild the Sheyenne River bridge at 32nd Avenue South, with plans to reopen it by the end of August. High waters and problems digging into the riverbank halted construction twice.

City officials moved ahead with the project last week, with their approval to claim a portion of private land for temporary public use so that construction can finish by Dec. 1.

Meanwhile, the project’s contractor, Riley Bros. Construction Inc. from Morris, Minn., said construction will likely cost an additional $250,000 because of challenges with the riverbank – a claim that West Fargo officials and the contractor must resolve in the coming weeks, West Fargo Administrator Jim Brownlee said.

Since West Fargo residents within about a mile of 32nd Avenue are paying for the project through a special assessment from the city, the additional cost might fall on their shoulders, Brownlee said.

“That’s one of the options – add it to the special assessment, and then it’s $1.8 (million) instead of $1.6, or the board could pay it out of city coffers, but that’s up to the board of city commissioners,” Brownlee said, adding that decision is still a few months away.

In a similar matter, the city will need to pay an undetermined amount to property owners next to the project for use of their land during construction.

After high waters stopped the project in June, workers sought to continue in mid-July but faced trouble when digging into the silt-like soil along the riverbank, Riley Bros. President Joe Riley said.

On Aug. 31, West Fargo commissioners invoked eminent domain – the government’s power to take private property for a public purpose – to approve the temporary use of adjoining private land.

Use of the land is necessary so the contractor can have enough space to re-dig the riverbank at a flatter angle and secure it during construction, Brownlee said.

The individual property owners will be reimbursed for the inconvenience, and the land will be returned to them once the project is complete, Brownlee said.

But the amount they will be paid won’t be determined until after the project, because Riley Bros. doesn’t know how much work will be needed using the land, city attorney Brian Neugebauer said after the commissioners’ vote Aug. 31.

“The city’s doing what it needs to do to minimize the damage to these people, get that road open and hopefully get this thing resolved,” Neugebauer said.

Brownlee said the average amount paid for temporary use of private land is about $800 per acre. But city officials plan to negotiate with property owners and determine a reasonable amount.

Neugebauer said the city is “caught in a no-win situation” in order to get the project finished but pledged nearby residents will be made whole.

“They’re stuck too – it’s unfortunate for them,” Neugebauer said. “It’s none of their fault. The situation is as it is, and the city’s got to rectify it before it gets much worse.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541