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Dave Olson, Published November 23 2010

Moorhead City Council balks at bridge proposal

The Moorhead City Council on Monday tabled action on a proposal to grant a five-year extension on the agreement that governs the operation of the toll bridge between Moorhead and Fargo.

The Fargo City Commission voted in October to grant the five-year extension, and Moorhead city staff brought a similar proposal to the Moorhead City Council on Monday.

However, council members balked, stating that they wanted to see details of the current contract and Moorhead’s options under it before making a decision.

The Bridge Co., which owns and operates the bridge at 15th Avenue North in Moorhead and 12th Avenue North in Fargo, asked Moorhead’s City Council and Fargo’s City Commission this past summer for a 10-year extension to the agreement that was originally formulated in the late 1980s.

When the current agreement expires June 1, 2013, Fargo and Moorhead will have the option of taking ownership of the bridge, but they would have to assume any “authorized” debt remaining on the bridge, according to information Moorhead city staff presented Monday.

Moorhead City Manager Michael Redlinger estimated the current debt at about $308,000.

Bridge Co. officials dispute that figure and say the amount is more than $600,000.

Redlinger said the city’s estimate is based on what he called “project” debt, while the Bridge Co. figure, he said, includes additional “developer” debt Fargo and Moorhead would not be responsible for.

If the cities decide not to take ownership of the bridge in 2013, current contract language calls for an automatic five-year extension, after which, in 2018, the bridge would become the property of the two cities free of debt, no matter how much Bridge Co. officials may owe creditors, City Attorney Brian Neugebauer said Monday.

Council members, however, asked city staff and Neugebauer to research the precise language of the current contract and specifically whether the city would indeed have to take on the project’s remaining debt if it opted to take over ownership of the toll bridge in 2013.

Council member Mark Hintermeyer said city ownership of the bridge could be a source of economic development for the north side of Moorhead.

City Council member Nancy Otto suggested it might be “interesting” for the city to take ownership of the bridge in 2013, even if Moorhead took on remaining debt, but then charged only Fargo residents for crossing the bridge.

“They (Fargo drivers) are the majority of the bridge crossers, anyway,” Otto said.

Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland said he understood that Otto was joking, but he said Moorhead might run into some difficulty when the cities inherit the bridge, as Fargo officials have said that even with city ownership they would want to see a toll remain in place to pay for maintenance.

“Again, maybe the toll can stay on the Fargo residents,” Otto said.

The City Council is expected to take up the issue again Dec. 6.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555