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Published April 07 2012

Flood protection boon for area engineers

FARGO – With billions of dollars in flood protection sought for the Fargo-Moorhead metro area, local leaders continue to turn to the experts they say they can rely on: The ones here in their own backyard.

The majority of contracted engineers helping with the Red River diversion and other local flood control projects are local companies, and those businesses are eager for a bite at the increasingly expensive apple.

For the businesses themselves, the steady stream of flood projects means profits and jobs for their hundreds of employees.

But for the communities, it also means a longterm investment that keeps local dollars local. F-M government leaders make no secret of the fact they’d prefer local contractors to help out whenever possible on the diversion project.

“We obviously like to keep the work as local as possible, but we still need firms that have the skills,” Fargo Engineer Mark Bittner said.

Lucky for them, there are several engineering firms right here in the valley that specialize in water projects.

For the initial engineering and design work, the

F-M Diversion Authority solicited engineering firms to make their pitches as to why they should be chosen to carry out specific contracts.

A selection committee comprised of Fargo, Moorhead and Clay County municipal engineers interviewed four of the seven firms that applied and offered the chosen firm for the Diversion Authority’s approval in February.

Unlike construction projects, the lowest bidder wasn’t guaranteed the job. The choice was based on the firm’s breadth of work, expertise and how much they’d potentially charge for the job, Bittner said.

But there was also specific and intentional emphasis on the firms that had local ties or experience working in the F-M area, said Bruce Spiller, technical services manager for the diversion project.

The team chosen to do the lion’s share of initial design work was actually a pair of such local firms that joined forces in the quest to continue helping with local flood protection efforts.

Moore Engineering and Houston Engineering have each been part of Fargo-Moorhead flood protection projects since the 1997 flood, and they’ve been helping with hydrology work for the current diversion plan since after the 2009 flood.

This year, Moore and Houston formed a new company to help coordinate initial design work for the proposed diversion.

“We felt we needed to keep that relationship going because of all the knowledge we’ve gained from our experiences,” said Jeff Volk, president of Moore Engineering.

That history and the local ties made the newly formed Houston-Moore Group, LLC, an easy choice to coordinate the initial engineering tasks out of the seven firms that applied, Spiller said.

“By the nature of being local, they’re very familiar with the local area, practices, issues that are out there,” Spiller said. “They’re really going to want this project to succeed and be good because they’re going to live with it long after it’s finished. They’re invested in a good outcome and doing what’s best for the community.”

Engineers with the Houston-Moore Group and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are spending this spring working behind the scenes on first designs for the construction that’ll be needed on roads, bridges, channels and levees associated with the proposed Red River diversion.

As the workload gets bigger – depending on available funding and congressional action – Houston-Moore is prepared to subcontract the work to other local firms, Volk said.

Houston and Moore both have long histories working with Twin Cities-based Barr Engineering and Bis-marck-based Kadrmas, Lee & Jackson. Some work could also be contracted out to other area businesses, as needed, Volk said.

Gregg Thielman, project manager with Houston Engineering, said using local companies for the Red River diversion project provides the benefit of “local knowledge and expertise.”

“We certainly understand the importance of the project,” Thielman said. “It also provides opportunities for employees and for our business. … It’s a big project for us as a company to keep people busy and contributing to the project.”

In similar fashion, the Diversion Authority also selected a trio of firms – Houston-Moore, Ulteig Engineering and Minneapolis-based ProSource Technologies – to shoulder the giant task of acquiring the property and land that’ll eventually be needed for the project.

While the actual construction work is at least 18 months off, Spiller said he’s already received calls from area contractors interested in earning a share of that work, too.

“When people hear a

$1.8 billion project, their ears perk up,” he said.

Construction jobs will likely be bid out piecemeal based on specific criteria, and the lowest bidder would earn the contract, Spiller said.

He added that local leaders will try to keep area construction companies in the competition as much as possible. Officials plan to offer the contracts in small increments, so local companies can better afford to bid on the various tasks.

But the emphasis on keeping it local won’t supersede a company’s qualifications or expertise for the job, Spiller said.

“They’re not going to harm the project to do that,” Spiller said. “From the Diversion Authority’s side, they do want to keep as many of the local dollars that are coming out of here as local as they can, but that doesn’t mean if the expertise wasn’t here, they wouldn’t go outside to get it.

“But when there’s a choice between keeping the money local or not, they’re going to tend to keep it local,” he said.


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

FARGO: TOP 5 CONTRACTORS

Based on Fargo sales tax expenditure data for 2010 and 2011, these firms earned the most money in contracts for the city’s ongoing flood protection projects.

The array of work included levee and dike construction and home removal, among other tasks.

• Master Construction Co. (Fargo): $6.72 million

• Industrial Builders Inc. (West Fargo): $2.79 million

• Houston Engineering Inc. (Fargo): $2.77 million

• Asplin Excavating Inc. (Fargo): $2.07 million

• Dakota Underground Co. Inc. (Fargo): $1.85 million

DIVERSION AUTHORITY: TOP CONTRACTORS

Since late 2011, the Diversion Authority has tapped several local firms to lead about $1.9 million worth of initial design and engineering work for the proposed F-M diversion project, as well as to help wrap up lingering tasks from the feasibility study.

Unlike construction projects, though, these contracts don’t have to go to the lowest bidder. Instead, the chosen company is selected based on who’s best equipped for the job at hand.

• Moore Engineering: $800,506

• Houston Engineering: $790,995

• URS: $192,000

• Houston-Moore Group, LLC: $100,000

Source: City of Fargo, CH2M Hill


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