More transparency needed on the $1 million for Mill Towns Trail’s Northfield segment

IMG_0243 When I saw in last week’s Nfld News (River trail, bridge are on course) that $240,000 is being allocated for the 600 feet from the new Mill Towns Trail (MTT) bridge through Riverside Park to 5th St. and Water St., I wondered where that money is coming from. And as I dug a bit, I discovered that it’s also not easy to figure out where the money came from to pay for the $820,000 for the bridge.

Help is needed! (continued)

 

Some questions:

  • The Northfield Rotary Club has evidently raised approximately $100,000 for the MTT. Shouldn’t that be listed on both of the MTT sites?
  • $150,000 from the 2009 state omnibus bonding bill apparently is to be used for “engineering and planning” for the MTT bridge. But what about the rest of the actual construction costs, approximately $570,000?
  • What City of Northfield fund is paying for the $240,00 for the 600 feet of trail? If it’s from the Riverfront TIF District, where is that information and what was the decision process on it?
  • According to this Nfld News article, “When costs last year went over engineers’ projections, city staff worked with the Friends of the Mill Towns Trail and the trail’s joint powers board to secure another $210,000 in funding.” Where did that money come from?
  • I’ve been told by a couple of people that the cost of the bridge escalated considerably when City of Northfield staff (engineering? parks?) requested that it be beefed up to support the weight of maintenance vehicles (lawn mowers, snowblowers, etc). How much did that cost, what was the approval process, and where did the money come from?

Some relevant Nfld News articles:

May 2008 Nfld News: Mill Towns Trail bridge will move forward 

The city council Monday approved an $820,000 bid by Healy Construction of Faribault to build the bridge. Initial bids last fall came in well over budget, forcing the project to be rebid.

When costs last year went over engineers’ projections, city staff worked with the Friends of the Mill Towns Trail and the trail’s joint powers board to secure another $210,000 in funding. The city also got approval to use a less expensive steel, a move that reduced costs to transport the bridge sections.

April 11, 2009 Nfld News: Mill Towns Trail a boon for city

The $650,000 will go to two parts of the project. Engineering and planning for a bridge that will cross over the Cannon River behind Laurel Court near Walgreens will cost about $150,000. The bridge then will connect to the trail on the south side of the river that will lead trail users under Minnesota Highway 3 and into Riverside Park. The remaining money will go to complete several miles of the trail in Byllesby Park in Goodhue County.

April 28, 2009 Nfld News: Bridge moves into place

The bridge, approved last April by the city council, was expected to cost more than $828,000. The majority of those funds came from the state and federal governments along with monies from Northfield Rotary raised through its annual bicycle race.

July 2, 2009 Nfld News: River trail, bridge are on course

All signs are go for the not-quite-600-foot trail on the east bank of the Cannon River downtown that would link two paths, said Community Development Director Brian O’Connell. The $240,000 trail was previously thought to lay in a floodway, which would require special approval, but a public hearing scheduled for June 23 was canceled after engineers discovered that was not the case, O’Connell said.

34 thoughts on “More transparency needed on the $1 million for Mill Towns Trail’s Northfield segment”

  1. Griff, I respect your research and the desire for transparency and having info available online, but many of the answers to your questions could likely be found by calling Peggy Prowe, who raised most of these funds, or Katy Gehler-Hess, the city engineer. When you post your questions without having done that additional calling, I think it unfairly raises suspicions about the sources of funding.

  2. Peggy Prowe sent me this info from Meg Otten, Chair, Friends of Mill Towns State Trail, re: funding for the Northfield pedestrian/bicycle bridge over the Cannon River, 2009:

    Federal grant – $334,535  (obtained in 2004)  SAFE-T-LU Federal Funding

    Friends group – $113,634 (accumulated from the Jesse James Bicycle Tour, sponsored by the Northfield Rotary, 1995 – 2008)

    Joint Powers Board $345,000 (State bonding money from 2006)

    Total construction cost: $794,000

    In addition, Northfield has contributed all of the engineering and project management to date, close to $150,000.

  3. Peggy Prowe wrote via email:

    The pedestrian/bicycle access between the eastern path in Lions Riverside Park to Fifth Street is being funded by TIF Downtown master funds, the same as the Riverfront development between Fifth & Bridge Square.  No Mill Towns Trail funds are involved.  Hopefully it will be dedicated to Maggie Lee, mastermind of the Riverfront redevelopment between Fourth and Second street bridges.

    In the attachment from February, under “potential funding” the DNR was successful only in the final grant application.

    I’ve converted the Word doc to a PDF: http://locallygrownnorthfield.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/Mill-Towns-Trail-current-bonding-accounts.pdf

  4. I wrote back to Peggy:

    A: I’ve been told by a couple of people that the cost of the bridge escalated considerably when City of Northfield staff (engineering? parks?) requested that it be beefed up to support the weight of maintenance vehicles (lawn mowers, snowblowers, etc). How much did that cost, what was the approval process, and where did the money come from?

    B: According to this Nfld News article, “When costs last year went over engineers’ projections, city staff worked with the Friends of the Mill Towns Trail and the trail’s joint powers board to secure another $210,000 in funding.” Where did that money come from?

    She replied:

    In regard to your first question, I have no idea about that rumor. I’d suggest you contact city engineer Katy Gehler-Hess for accurate information.

    In answer to your second question: The additional funding for the bridge was ratified by the Mill Town State Trail Joint Powers Board, derived from the 2006 bonding.

  5. I just discovered that the April 21 2008 Council packet has this “summary of funding sources for construction”:

    mttb-funding-sshot

    It also has this:

    B. Amendment to Yaggy-Colby Contract for additional services

    ACTION REQUESTED: Proposed Motion for Consideration: ____________Motion ___________Second

    The City Council of the City of Northfield hereby approves contract amendments with Yaggy-Colby for 1999 improvement No. 006 – Mill Towns Trail.

    SUMMARY

    The City Council is being asked to approve amendments to the Contract between the City of Northfield and Yaggy Colby for the design of the Mill Towns Trail Bridge over the Cannon River. The changes take into account additional work that was unforeseen when the original contract was prepared including the following:

    1. Preparation of the project memorandum that is part of the federal funding package. This task was originally scheduled to be completed by staff. However, due to a change in staffing levels the consultant was requested to complete this task.

    2. Preparation of plans for the rebid of the project and working through the federal process with MnDOT.

    The contract for services to date is $102,044.79. The requested amendment for additional services is $29,268.48. Therefore, the total amended contract amount is $131,313.30.

    This project is being completed as a collaboration of many agencies. When the project was initiated, the City agreed to provide engineering services including design and construction observation. In 2003 the Park and Recreation Advisory Board developed the location of the Mill Towns trail through Northfield and recommended support of this project to the Council. The Council approved the project funding grant with Resolution 2003-033 and the grant was awarded in late fall of 2003. Staff at this time is recommending that the City’s share of project costs, contracted engineering, be financed through the parks fund. Costs for in-house engineering, project oversight, and project field observations – soft costs – will be covered through the general operating fund.

    SUBMITTED BY: J. Walinski, Public Services Director
    K. Gehler-Hess, City Engineer

  6. It’s not clear to me where the $131,313 for the Yaggy Colby contract came from. The staff recommendation in the April 2008 recommendation above was that it be financed through the parks fund. Did that happen? Or was this paid by the $150,000 from the 2009 state omnibus bonding bill which, according to this Northfield News article, was to be used for “engineering and planning” for the MTT bridge?

    I’m still trying to find a source that shows the allocation of $240,000 from the TIF Downtown master development fund for the 600 feet from the bridge through Riverside Park to 5th St. and Water St.

  7. I’m getting a range of reactions to my efforts to try to understand the true cost of the bridge. Some people are encouraging me and actually use the word ‘pork’ to describe the bridge. Others wonder if I have an axe to grind or chide me for just trying to stir up trouble just for the hell of it, or to stimulate more blog traffic.

    I think financial transparency is important for any public project like this, but it’s even more important now, given A) the economic climate; and B) the long list of capital improvement projects facing us, eg, a new Safety Center.

    A quarter of a million here, a quarter of a million there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money. (Apparently, no apologies needed to Senator Everett Dirksen.)

  8. Others wonder if I have an axe to grind or chide me for just trying to stir up trouble just for the hell of it, or to stimulate more blog traffic.

    That’s a bit harsh, though I was struck that you seem to be unusually skeptical of this project. Why not ask, say, who paid for the County Road 28 (Woodley) project? (Spoiler: the county certainly did not pay for necessary parts of the project.) Or, while it probably all paid for by the City, why was there not this sort of skepticism on where exactly the cash went on that $2 million Water Street parking lot?

    Transparency is great, but this strong fight for it (concentrated on this one bridge) seems to leave an implication that you think money was wasted or that one group paid an inappropriately large portion of it.

  9. Sean, I only have so much bandwidth to pursue financial money trails. As I wrote at the beginning of this post, it was the $240,000 for the 600 feet of trail through Riverside that got me started wondering about all the costs for the bridge.

    The difficulty in getting answers to all my questions, plus the reluctance of people to go public with their private grumbling to me about the project, have been factors in my willingness to continue to pursue it.

    I’m a big fan of Minnesota’s recreational trails and would dearly love to see MTT connect the Sakatah and Cannon Valley trails ASAP.

    For that to happen, significant public support is going to be needed, especially for a high-visibility project like this. Doubts about the financials will hamper that.

    I don’t know if anything inappropriate was done. I hope not.

  10. P. 27 of Northfield’s Capital Improvement Plan for 2008 – 2012 has this MTT summary:

    The Mill Towns Trail project is a joint project with other entities that will provide recreational and transportation opportunities by tying into a trail system that will stretch from Mankato to Red Wing. The project provides for the construction of a trail bridge over the Cannon River and connection of the Mill Towns Trail from the north Sechlar Park entrance to Riverside Park. The City is providing engineering services to the project in the amount of $131,314 and will be funded from the City’s Park Fund. The remainder of the financing comes from federal ($334,535), state ($380,000) and other sources ($113,634).

    The Riverside Trail Connection will link Riverside Park to the intersection of 5th and Water Streets and complete the trail through the City. Funding for the $180,000 will come from the City’s Master Development District Fund.

    The Transit Hub / Trailhead project will entail the construction of a multi-modal hub in conjunction with the Mill Towns Trail project. The project includes a parking lot, access to trails, bike racks, restrooms and information kiosks near the intersection of Highways 19 and 3. The majority of funding comes from a federal grant ($277,200) and the balance from a local share. It is anticipated that the local share will be financed through g.o. bonds ($55,440). If the project is not done in 2008, federal funding will be lost.

    Here’s a screenshot of the MTT portion of the 08-12 spreadsheet. I’ve added the red lines:

    Capital Improvement Plan for 2008 – 2012 (MTT portion)

    ==============

    The December 2008 update to the CIP, Capital Improvement Plan for 2009 – 2013, adds a year to the plan. Here’s a screenshot of the MTT portion of the spreadsheet 09-13. I’ve added the red lines:

     

    Capital Improvement Plan for 2009 – 2013 (MTT portion)

  11. This confirms that the $131,000 for Yaggy-Colby’s engineering contract is being paid from Park Funds, though I don’t yet know if new state money is to go towards that.

    The budget for the Riverside connecting trail has grown from $180,000 to $245,000. I wonder what the extra $65,000 is for?

    I was surprised to see the Trailhead still in the 2009 CIP for $345,000, as the text reads “If the project is not done in 2008, federal funding will be lost.”

  12. Dundas "5 ton vehicle load limit" Dundas pedestrian bridge dundas-bridge-sshot

    The pedestrian / bike trail bridge in Dundas that spans the Cannon River connecting Mill Park and Memorial Park was built in 1994 for about $200,000, which included the development of Mill Park (trails, parking lot, shelter). $70K was from a state grant. The remainder was raised locally. That info is from the Jan. 28, 1994 Northfield News article (PDF of a microfiche). The Dundas bridge is 201 feet long, 8 feet wide, and has a vehicle load limit of five tons with a wooden timber base.

    Northfield "5 ton vehicle load limit" Mill Towns Trail bridge in Northfield

    The new Mill Towns Trail bridge in Northfield is approximately 228 feet long, is 10 feet wide, and has a vehicle load limit of five tons with a concrete base.

    1. Though I’m not sure the 2 ft width difference added a lot of cost, I should note that 10 ft is the City of Northfield standard for shared-use paths. The Dundas-Northfield MTT is currently 8 ft, though Peggy Prowe mentioned at the TH 3/19 Open House last week that they hope to widen it to 10 ft when it’s resurfaced.

  13. The bridge over to Riverside Park from behind Walgreen’s and vice versa is open to pedestrian and bike traffic (maybe even to snowmobiles, if cool summer weather continues). Hay has been put down to either discourage weeds or encourage Northfield’s contented cows to munch there.
    Two young boys on bikes had already discovered a stone embankment which provided a small incline for derring-do once they crossed the bridge and headed to the park. There was some flooding in this area near the river during recent rains. Hope that has been solved.

  14. Sean, it’s hard to know what added the cost to the bridge. But it’s clearly a MUCH bigger (sturdier? fancier?) bridge than the one in Dundas, for a distance that’s only 25 ft longer.

    At one point, costs were a concern, according to this May 23, 2008 Nfld News article:

    When costs last year went over engineers’ projections, city staff worked with the Friends of the Mill Towns Trail and the trail’s joint powers board to secure another $210,000 in funding. The city also got approval to use a less expensive steel, a move that reduced costs to transport the bridge sections.

     

  15. Griff, I went over the bridge yesterday for the first time, accessing it by first going under the Hwy 3 bridge. This reminded me that a significant part of the cost of this project comes from the concrete retaining walls (if that’s what they’re called) on the trail near the bridge. They’re quite large. It’s a more complex project than the Dundas bridge, with more trail work near the river.

    I worry that the trail under the Hwy 3 bridge will flood when the river rises.

  16. Bill,
    I wasn’t clear what the purpose of the retaining walls was. That trail has gone underneath the Highway 3 bridge for years, and while it looks somewhat tidier with concrete instead of dirt on that slope, I’m not sure that there was a substantial benefit.

    I worry that the trail under the Hwy 3 bridge will flood when the river rises.

    That has happened in the past, though never for more than a few days in the spring. I would hope whenever the Hwy 3 bridge is replaced, that the new one would be high enough to allow the trail to be higher than water level and allow more clearance underneath. I don’t think there’s anything on the horizon, but the bridge is 50+ years old and looking narrower every day. Whether it’s replaced in five years of 30, the trail underpass is something to take into account.

    If the trail is completed to Cannon Falls before the bridge is replaced (which I would hope will be the case), I think it would be fine to have detour signs to use the Woodley St crossing and take the trail east of Hwy 3.

  17. With the 3 inches or so of rain we’ve received in the last 24 hours, there’s been no erosion that I’ve noticed. So kudos to the design and construction companies thus far.

    Now if they could only do something about all the geese congregating there who are shitting all over the bike trail.

  18. City staff is requesting an additional $60,000 of Parks fund money for the consultants (“construction observation”) on the MTT bridge. It’s on tonight’s Council meeting consent agenda.

    The financials on this project continue to amaze me.  And now the Council is being asked to rubber stamp (consent agenda!) another $60k.

    See the packet p. 11-12:

    Approve Yaggy Colby contract amendment for Mill Towns Trail contract

    The City Council is being asked to approve amendments to the Contract between the City of Northfield and Yaggy Colby for construction services related to the Mill Towns Trail Bridge over the Cannon River. The changes take into account additional work that was unscheduled when the original contract was prepared including the following:

    1. Construction observation for 2008 bridge construction – Projects that utilize federal funds require observation by a resident project representative (RPR) that is certified for the types of work being completed. In the case of the Mill Towns Trail, it required that the observer have a bridge certification. Since the city does not complete a significant number of these projects, staff does not maintain this certification. Yaggy-Colby provided construction observation services for the duration of the project that required this special certification.

    2. Construction Observation for 2009 construction – Due to a staffing level change in 2008 and scheduling of other projects the City was not able to provide construction observation for this project in the 2009 construction season. Yaggy-Colby provided these services for the City.

    The contract for services to date is $131,313.30. The requested amendment for additional services is $60,380.17. Therefore, the total amended contract amount is $190,456.65. Staff is recommending funding these additional costs from the parks fund.

    FINANCIAL

    This project was completed as a collaborative effort between many agencies. When the project was initiated, the City agreed to provide engineering services including design and construction observation. In 2003 the Park and Recreation Advisory Board developed the location of the Mill Towns trail through Northfield and recommended support of this project to the Council. The Council approved the project funding grant with Resolution 2003-033 and the grant was awarded in late fall of 2003. Staff at this time is recommending that the City’s share of project costs, contracted engineering, be financed through the parks fund. Costs for in-house engineering and project oversight will be covered through the general operating fund.

  19. And there’s now another $35K that doesn’t ‘add up.’

    Peggy Prowe’s email of Meg Otten’s financial summary (comment #3 above) indicated that the total from the Joint Powers Board (State bonding money from 2006) was $345,000.

    Now it’s up to $380,000 according to the summary in the packet.

  20. I thought I said this earlier in the thread,but it appears I haven’t not: I have no problem with citizens pursuing questions about public funding and use of taxpayer dollars, but I hope those questions will be pursued with equal vigor regardless of the project.

    Quite often people question projects that they dislike and turn a blind eye to projects that they like. So, money spent on a path or trail get scrutinized much more than money spent on a road, even when our spending as a society on the latter dwarfs our spending on the former.

    I will likely say the same thing in the streetscape thread, which I have not finished reading.

    Griff, I’m not saying you oppose trail or nonmotorized transportation projects, just asking you to keep your eye to ALL city spending.

  21. David, in general I don’t sense that there’s a lot of waste in government at the local level. I also see many people like yourself keeping a close eye on spending and making known their concerns, which I think helps keep things in check.

    Forgive me for focusing on my pet issues below, but it’s what I’ve decided to specialize in:

    I would say some of our streets are unnecessarily wide (Lincoln St./Lincoln Parkway in places, Maple St.) and therefore more expensive to build and maintain; they’re also less safe because people drive faster.

    I would say the siting of the middle school has led to wasteful spending. We’re wasting money by busing kids from across Highway 246 to the middle school because they have no safe crossing. Some kids live only a few hundred feet from the school and are bused! The money saved by the school district (and the taxpayers) by needing fewer buses should be factored into any public money spent on a safe crossing such as a tunnel or bridge or roundabout or some other surface improvement.

    This is just one example of the way that spending money on better infrastructure can save us money. At the same time, there are other examples of auto-dependent infrastructure that end up costing all of us more money. We’re all driving around, wearing out the roads, needing multiple cars per family, not being physically active and getting sicker, and it’s expensive for governments and companies and individuals.

  22. Griff : I’d like to thank you for raising the issue of the extra 60K for the MTT bridge which was put on the consent agenda.
    This is actually a very important general process issue as well as a specific question for these dollars. In reading the packet info, it looks like the city was well aware of the fact that the bridge certified engineering expertise (required by fed law) was recognized in the initial phases of the project. Knowing that the city does not have a staff member with this qualification, why was this an “Add-on”?

    Then we come to the placement of this on the consent agenda; completely improper , as presented, i.e. this is a policy decision if the solution is to take it from the Park Board’s budget. This is NOT a staff decision. Since the council did not discuss it, and it appeared on consent, one can only surmise that staff made this decision. The question then is: Why is Council OK with this?

    I did not go to the Council meeting last night and do not know if it was pulled off consent, and moved to the regular agenda, but it should have been. If it was not pulled, does that mean Council is OK with staff making policy decisions?

    My understanding is that the Park Board was not notified that their budget was being ‘raided’; they had no opportunity for input, and no chance to discuss what their intentions were for their remaining budget. (Remember they are getting NO funding next year, and will only have whatever funds are left from this year) I have heard them express, at their meetings, a desire to complete the Old Memorial Field/Park plans (trails , etc.)

    Ok, I know this is getting long but there is an even broader issue… As I was doing the LWV observing while Jane McWilliams was gone over the summer, I
    noticed that the consent agendas were getting larger and larger, and the regular agenda, where decision making must legally and properly occur, was shrinking.

    This raises a very troubling question: where is the decision making happening?

    Having good work sessions, where lots of information is gathered to help the councilors make their decision is a good thing; making decisions there, at the work session and then without a vote, putting an item on consent where the entire block of items is voted on together, and without any discussion ,is definitely a bad thing. This removes the decision making conclusions from the ‘legislative’ discussion, and the public eye.

    So.. the specific issue you raise is a clear example of what may have become a larger, ongoing improper process.

  23. Kiffi,

    Are not council work sessions public meetings that require public notice? So decisions are still not being made behind closed doors, correct?

    I’d like to hear more about what makes work sessions different from regulation council sessions.

    1. Bill: No , of course decisions are not being made behind “closed doors”.
      The work session is the place where information is presented and ‘chewed through’, but the policy discussion must occur at a regular council meeting, which is referred to as the legislative session, and the conclusion must be reached there,and the deciding vote taken there, not in the work session.

      I’d like to drag Jane Mc Williams in here to explain this principle; I think she can do it more succinctly than I.

  24. Kiffi,

    Jane McWilliams’ LWV Observer’s Report on last Monday’s Council mtg has this:

    As has become the practice, the bulk of the actions for the evening were on the consent agenda. The council removed one item from the agenda. A minor change was made in the wording of the resolution relating to a contract amendment with Yaggy Colby for construction services on the Mill Towns Trail Bridge affecting the city’s costs for this project funded though the parks fund.

    1. Yes, this has been an ongoing concern, as I have said several times, and the observers are keeping a ‘watch’ on it
      It is this sort of Best Management Practices that the League is good at following, much to some persons’ disgruntlement…

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