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Helmut Schmidt, Published August 03 2010

More time requested to pay off toll bridge debt

A firm that owns the private toll bridge connecting north Fargo with north Moorhead has asked for more time to pay off the bridge’s debt before turning over ownership to the cities.

Clifford Moore, president of Bridge Co., requested in a letter to the cities that they extend a debt payback grace period from five years to 10 years.

That would push back the hand­over of the bridge to May 31, 2023.

The bridge connects Fargo’s 12th Avenue North with Moorhead’s 15th Avenue North.

In his proposal, Moore said Bridge Co. would refinance its debt at current low interest rates, plus pay back taxes and any other obligations.

He proposed that the refinanced debt can be amortized through May 2023 and the bridge can be turned over debt free.

The amount of debt owed on the $1.9 million bridge was not revealed in the letter.

Fargo and Moorhead officials said Monday that legal and financial experts are looking at the plan.

Fargo City Administrator Pat Zavoral said Moore has been asked to meet with the finance committee today.

Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said the “several hundred thousand dollars” due on the bridge is a problem the city would rather not be saddled with.

“We don’t have any money set aside at all to pay for the debt on the 12th Avenue North toll bridge,” Walaker said.

“Why would we want to put any money into it at this time if we don’t have to?” Zavoral said.

Moorhead City Manager Michael Redlinger said the request is being studied.

“We’ll take a look at it. I don’t have an opinion on it at this point,” he said. “If the two cities are in agreement, we’ll move forward with his proposal.”

The Moorhead City Council approved $1.6 million in municipal industrial development bonds for Bridge Co. in 1986.

Messages seeking comment from Moore were not returned.

The bridge opened on June 1, 1988, and was supposed to be in public hands by 2013. If Fargo and Moorhead agree, a clause in the current contract lets Bridge Co. own the bridge for another five years and turn it over free of debt in 2018

Traffic volumes failed to meet original projections, and revenues suffered despite toll hikes.

Losses due to flood closures also hampered Bridge Co.’s ability to pay off debt, Moore wrote in his letter. He added that more than $500,000 in local taxes have been paid on the bridge, but some taxes are owed.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583