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John Lundy, Forum Communications, Published June 22 2012

Duluth officials have preliminary plan

DULUTH, Minn. – The city of Duluth will use a streamlined process to get shovels on the ground as quickly as possible for the massive repairs needed to streets damaged or destroyed by this week’s flood.

But some of the biggest repair jobs still will take months, said Jim Benning, Duluth public works director.

“Vermilion Road, for instance, is going to have to be totally reconstructed,” Benning said Friday. “That’s not something you can do overnight.”

Duluth Mayor Don Ness has estimated repairs to public property in Duluth will cost between $50 million and $80 million. As of Friday, the city planned to begin repairs on West Skyline Parkway within a day or two, Benning said. That’s because washouts in two places left residents on a stretch of the road isolated.

Beyond that, priorities will be determined Monday, Benning said.

Spots that can be easily repaired will be addressed quickly, Benning said. For major projects, the city plans to use a “design-build” process. That means a single contractor is hired for all phases of a project. That saves time over the traditional process in which a consulting firm is hired to design a road followed by a separate bidding process to hire a builder.

With so much to be done, some residents inevitably will see work on their streets later than others.

“Obviously, the damage is widespread, and we are going to have to prioritize these (repairs),” Benning said. “Unfortunately, some roads are going to take a little longer to get to than others.”

State and federal officials have been in the region determining if the Northland will qualify for a federal disaster declaration and the money that would come with it.

City Auditor Wayne Parson said emergency repairs will be financed for the next three months with existing funds. After that, the city will have to turn to temporary financing measures. The city will have to pay for the work up-front before receiving federal and state reimbursement, he said.

“Hopefully, within a year’s time we’ll know how much money we’re getting (in disaster funds),” Parson said.

The full extent of the damage isn’t known, Benning said. For example, some streets in the Fond du Lac neighborhood are still under water and can’t be evaluated. The state of the sanitary sewer system won’t be known until it can be inspected with cameras.

One pleasant surprise: The city only had one water main break during the deluge and flood. “I think that is quite miraculous, considering the amount of earth movement we had,” Benning said.

Benning said he hopes people will be good neighbors, offering parking spaces to those who can’t park near their homes. It’s a situation that will require patience, he said.

“We’re aware of the vast, widespread devastation, and we’re going to get to these roads as quickly as possible and restore access as quickly as possible,” Benning said. “We’re asking for as much patience as possible, and cooperation among the residents.”

Lundy writes for the Duluth News Tribune

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