SSP to explore floodwall extension


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South St. Paul may be adding on to its nearly 50-year-old floodwall, but first city officials must determine whether the extra protection would do more harm than good.

The city council took the first step in exploring an extension of the levee system to protect additional properties along I-494 near the Mississippi River by awarding a contract for a site evaluation project in its Aug. 5 meeting.

The contract, awarded to Minneapolis-based Barr Engineering, details the first phase of a three-phase analysis of the potential extension. In the first phase, Barr would identify potential challenges for floodwall construction, outline impacts to businesses whose properties would host the new wall and provide rough cost estimates for the project. The second phase of the evaluation would include detailed cost-benefit ratios of the added wall for affected properties, soil testing and other technical measurements required for federal approval of the work. Finally, the third phase would draw on the information already gathered to create a preliminary design for the new levee.

City Engineer John Sachi told the council at the meeting the evaluation is broken into independent phases to allow the council the opportunity to weigh the new information and reconsider the value of the floodwall before moving on.

“After each phase, there will be another action for the council to approve to proceed,” Sachi explained. “We can stop at any point.”

Concerns with Barr

The ordering of the project follows the publication of the South Concord Redevelopment Area Transportation Plan, a detailed traffic analysis of the corridor most affected by the proposed wall extension. The council had waited to order the floodwall evaluation until the study was available for contractors to use in determining the wall’s merits.

The businesses whose property falls in the potential path of floodwall construction include Danner, Inc., the Dakota Bulk terminal and the Rod and Gun Club. The city and Barr Engineering will rely heavily on their cooperation through the first two phases of the project if the council votes to continue with the work.

Prior to voting in the Aug. 5 meeting, Council member Chris Lehmann expressed concern about awarding the contract to Barr Engineering as staff had recommended. Lehmann said the council had been recently frustrated working with Barr on repairs to the existing floodwall after the city received only one bid on the repairs, and that bid vastly exceeded Barr’s estimate. At the time, Barr representatives attributed the misstep to the unusual design and needs of South St. Paul’s levee. The council eventually agreed to pay Barr an additional $10,000 to beef up the project specifications in order to ease the uncertainty for potential bidders.

Lehmann added that while Barr offered the low bid on the first phase at $38,500, its estimated bids for the second and third phases were higher than the other two bidders.

Sachi, however, suggested that Barr’s work with the city and the Army Corps of Engineers on the existing levee would be an asset when it came to evaluating an extension. Sachi said he believed Barr’s estimated bids for the later phases were higher because they were more detailed than the other bids and anticipated necessary work that other bidders left out.

Sachi added the council had the option of opening the later phases to other bidders when the time came; however, he said it would likely be cheaper to stick with one firm throughout the process than to switch at each step.

Cost the key factor

Council member Tom Seaberg said for him, the greatest concern was the usefulness of the information obtained by Barr in Phase 1. South St. Paul has received a matching grant from the state for levee repairs and construction, but it also anticipates some reimbursement from the Corps of Engineers for costs. Seaberg pointed out that in order to qualify for the reimbursement, the city must be able to demonstrate increased land value from the new levee.

Seaberg said it would he believed data uncovered in Phase 1 would be crucial to the city’s final decision on the project, since it would be too risky to pay for the next two phases only to learn the construction wasn’t financially feasible.

“In all reality we’ll know after Phase I what we’re going to do and I hope that’s the message that we get back to Barr--that we need enough information to decide whether it’s worth going forward,” Seaberg said.

The council ultimately voted 7-0 to award the contract to Barr.

Luke Reiter can be reached at lreiter@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7815.

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