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Erik Burgess, Published March 18 2013

Owner says toll bridge cost $500,000, 'large dispute' possible over price

FARGO – If Fargo and Moorhead want to buy the sole toll bridge connecting the two cities, it could cost half a million dollars.

But which city is on the hook for the structure is still to be determined.

The Fargo City Commission on Monday night voted to form a panel between the two cities to discuss buying the structure, which connects Fargo’s 12th Avenue North with Moorhead’s 15th Avenue North.

The Moorhead City Council voted last week to buy the 25-year-old structure and to sue the privately run Bridge Co. if a buyout price can’t be agreed upon.

The two cities could have granted a five-year extension to Bridge Co. and picked up the structure free of debt in 2018. Fargo voted to do that in 2011, but Moorhead’s council at the time tabled the issue.

City leaders on both sides of the river have questioned how much the structure will cost and if it’s up to code.

Bridge Co. President Clifford “Kip” Moore told Fargo city commissioners on Monday night that he believed the final price of the bridge would be roughly $500,000, and that it doesn’t require any major maintenance.

“I’m not saying there isn’t a bent guardrail or something, but I’m not aware of any repairs needed,” he said.

Of the estimated half-a-million price tag, about $100,000 is original debt still left on the bridge, Moore said. The company also owes $47,435 in back taxes in Clay County, and $8,230 in Cass County.

But the largest chunk of debt owed to Bridge Co. is around $350,000 in management fees. The company was to be paid 5 percent of the bridge’s annual revenue as a fee for managing the structure.

But damages from consistent flooding have prevented the bridge from making enough money to pay those fees, taxes and debt, Moore said.

Moore added that he believes only Moorhead should be on the hook for management fees because Moorhead helped finance the $2.2 million bridge with $1.6 million in municipal industrial development bonds in 1987.

Moorhead City Attorney John Shockley has argued that those management fees cannot be considered “authorized debt” that is transferred to the cities when they buy the bridge and that disagreement over the buyout will likely lead to a lawsuit.

“If that’s what they want to do, I guess, so be it,” Moore said, agreeing that there will be a “large dispute” over the price.

Moore said the structure has been maintaining a semi-annual inspection schedule – the latest was in the summer of 2012. Following the 2011 flood, divers even inspected the bridge underwater.

“They found nothing wrong,” he said.

Each city and the North Dakota Department of Transportation and the Minnesota Department of Transportation have been kept informed of the inspections, Moore said.

Still, Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said on Monday that the city would soon be doing its own inspection of the structure.

“I want a fair accounting of what’s owed,” Walaker said. “I want a bridge inspection.”

The commission voted that each city’s mayor, city manager, city engineer and city attorney meet to discuss buying the structure. Results of those meetings should be back in front of the commission in two to four weeks.

Moorhead was slated to discuss the issue Monday, but its meeting was cancelled due to weather.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518