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MnDOT Proposes St. Croix River Crossing Plan at 'No Cost' to Oak Park Heights

The debate surrounding municipal consent and "betterments" in relation to the St. Croix River Crossing Project heats up in Oak Park Heights as a project layout "deadline" looms.

The long-standing debate surrounding the St. Croix River Crossing Project continues in Oak Park Heights.

Officials with the Minnesota Department of Transportation on Tuesday is able to construct the St. Croix River Crossing Project “with no cost to the city whatsoever.”

But the City Council approached the proposal with reservations and numerous questions regarding municipal consent and the definition of “betterments.”

As it stands, the Oak Park Heights City Council is tasked to decide if the construction plans submitted by MnDOT on July 2 are in accordance with the layout approved by the city in 1995.

The city has the option to take no action by Aug. 29 or request an appeal board be formed.

Betterments

One point of contention between MnDOT and the city of Oak Park Heights is the description of "betterment" with regards to city utilities and construction of the project.

Project Manager Jon Chiglo told the Council the project has no city “betterments” in the footprint of the project, and therefore requires no city funds.

“We are able to avoid your utilities,” Chiglo said, “and the ones we are unable to avoid, we will use trunk highway dollars and federal funds to replace at cost not burdened by the city.”

MnDOT defines a betterment as: “any upgrading of the facility being relocated that is not attributed to the highway construction and is made solely for the benefit of and at the election of the (city’s utilities).”

Betterments are based on legislation and are held consistent with projects across the state, Chiglo said. This issue is not unique to Oak Park Heights.

After thoroughly reviewing the city’s proposed utility work, MnDOT has determined that replacing or improving the 50-year-old pipes that will be beneath the new roadway is a “betterment,” which would not be available—per state and federal law—for trunk highway dollars or federal funds.

“The viewpoint of the Department is not necessarily shared by our legal team with regards to the definition of betterments,” Oak Park Heights Mayor David Beaudet said.

The city of Oak Park Heights believes the utilities that will eventually be located beneath the new roadway are impacted by the project, and therefore, are not “betterments.”

The difference boils down to about $3 million in utility work.

“MnDOT has made a lot of concessions over the years,” Councilmember Mary McComber said. “There’s obviously a disagreement over what the description of a betterment is and hopefully we will get through that.”

Councilmember Mark Swenson said he has supported the project since 1995, and continues to support it.

“I think what you came up with tonight, with no cost to the city is a definite gain,” he said. “I think we have some things to improve on. I think we need to come up with a better way to do some of the things we are doing, but I think we’re at a road now where the city needs to be cognizant with what we replace and how we proceed. We are at a crossroads where we need to give you our support.”

Municipal Consent

A second point of contention that needs to be resolved between MnDOT and the city of Oak Park Heights is municipal consent.

Based on a , MnDOT believes the construction plans for the project are consistent with the size and scope of the project approved by the city in 1995, Chiglo said. So municipal consent previously granted to MnDOT should still be valid.

But Beaudet argues that the issues surrounding municipal consent are “certainly still open for interpretation.”

Chiglo is taking the district court case “out of context,” Beaudet said. The judge didn’t say the 1995 plans and 2005 plans were identical.

The only difference in the two plans was a bridge over 95 that is no longer included in the project, Chiglo said. That change does not impact the trunk highway.

But the plans MnDOT has submitted to the city are based on the 2005 layout, which was never submitted to the city of Oak Park Heights and therefore never approved, reviewed or commented on by the city of Oak Park Heights, . Under the provisions of the law, the city’s position is that the plans MnDOT submits to the city should be in accordance with the layout plan approved by the city in 1995.

“By your admission, the Department is not doing that and thus is not complying with the requirements of statute,” a letter from Oak Park Heights City Attorney to MnDOT reads.

“That’s the crux of the problem,” Beaudet said.

If MnDOT wants to follow the law, he said, the Department needs to submit the plans approved in 1995.

In 1995, the city approved the layout plan, Chiglo said. In 2007, the District Court found that the project as it currently exists in the 2005 layout—when compared to the 1995 project approved by the city—“is in substance and purpose substantially the same project.”

“Our focus is on getting this project built,” Chiglo said. “We don’t want to waste energy arguing.”

Randy Marsh August 02, 2012 at 01:14 AM
“I think what you came up with tonight, with no cost to the city is a definite gain." Is it just me or does Swenson have this all wrong. It sounds to me like the city is going to get stuck paying the full cost of replacing utilities that clearly need to be replaced. That sounds like a setback for the city. Of course they could do nothing and pay for it big time later, much like the situation the city finds itself in with regard to terrible roads they have ignored and neglected for years.
Shawn Hogendorf August 02, 2012 at 02:02 AM
As this stands, Oak Park Heights would be paying the full cost of the utility work, if they choose to do so. MnDOT has determined that replacing or improving the 50-year-old pipes that will be beneath the new roadway is a “betterment,” which would not be eligible for trunk highway dollars or federal funds.
Shawn Hogendorf August 02, 2012 at 02:21 AM
Here's a statement from the Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing on St. Croix River Crossing Project Funding "Earlier this year we were deeply gratified when so much hard work and cooperation between so many people helped move the St. Croix River Crossing forward. Elected officials who often disagree found a way to agree on what’s best for the community. Today this same dedication to the public's greater good is working to keep the project moving forward. MnDOT has found a way to eliminate any additional construction costs for Oak Park Heights residents and businesses. This solves one of the final key challenges for this critical project, which has faced numerous delays in the past. It’s now time for the City of Oak Park Heights to do what is best for our entire region by working cooperatively with MnDOT to keep this project on schedule. Delays to the project will increase the cost of the project and keep construction workers out of jobs. We have all waited too long and accomplished far too much together this year to let any solvable issues stand in our way." From Stillwater Mayor Ken Harycki and John Soderberg, Co-chairs of the Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing
Chadwick August 02, 2012 at 02:36 AM
Sounds like a fair deal to me.
Randy Marsh August 02, 2012 at 02:36 AM
What a BS statement by the coalition. One thing I know is that if it comes from Harycki and Soderberg you should assume the opposite is true. This is nothing more than MnDOT saying we're not going to pay for the new utilities that we know you need. I don't think the taxpayers outside of Oak Park Height should pay for their utilities but I don't understand the coalition and MnDOT not at least acknowledging that this is going to cost the residents and businesses of Oak Park Heights.
Chadwick August 02, 2012 at 02:38 AM
It's their utilities; that's who should be paying for it.
Randy Marsh August 02, 2012 at 03:00 AM
I agree, I just don't understand why MnDOT and the coalition can't just come out and say that rather than providing self-felatio in proclaiming the work can be done “with no cost to the city whatsoever” when it knows full well the work will need to be done. I have no sympathy for Oak Park Heights and it's self righteous mayor, but it's just disingenuous is all. Somebody also might want to let Swenson in on the fact that OPH taxpayers will be on the hook for those costs.
Susan August 03, 2012 at 11:43 PM
It's time to get real Oak Park Heights. They are your utility lines and you should have to pay to have them replaced. I get the impression that OPH is holding the consent hostage in the hopes of getting the state to pay to replace the utility lines. I have read estimates from $2-$20 million. If MNDOT has figured out a way to build the bridge and all that goes with it, without affecting your utility lines, then you are on the hook for the cost. Enough already! I was against this bridge too, but it is coming, stop trying to delay because you want the state to pay for your utility lines. Hasn't Lohmer already secured $1 million for you? Take it, be happy, and then pay your own bills.
MartyH August 24, 2012 at 06:31 PM
Your all pretty much correct no matter how you view it. I'm a resident and in favor of the bridge. I grew up in Wisconsin and know all to well that its needed. As a citizen of OPH now I understand and agree that we need to cover our costs of the project knowing my taxes will go up. I agree that the utilities need to be replaced anyways. But what no one understands is it's not the people of OPH that has blown this way out of proportion, it's our current Mayor. Where he got the number of 20 million no one knows. He has tried everything in his power to sabotage this project with some great success costing you, I, State, and Federal government way more money than what their fighting over now. I don't agree that we should have covered all of the 3.8 million (On the high end) needed to do everything because not everything needs to be replaced due to age. A 3.8 million hit to a city that has under 4,000 people would be a hard one to take. What others people looking in at this don't understand is the current Bridge is Stillwater's not Oak Park Heights. Oak Park Heights is loosing land and access points for our current businesses when the new bridge is completed. I have no problem watching this land be consumed by the bridge but I would like it more clear to the people in the State of Minnesota that OPH is about 1/8 the size of Stillwater, Stillwater township and Grant and they will not have to pay any city taxes to replace their bridge. Continued...........
MartyH August 24, 2012 at 06:31 PM
We will not be going forward with a zero cost to OPH. We know for sure the city will have to come up with 1/2 a million right up front and I believe that in the end it could push 1 million. I have no problem paying for this as I know our city will prosper when the bridge is completed, but until then our businesses will struggle due to the mass chaos, confusion and construction over the next 4 years. So with that said Vote for MARY McCOMBER as Mayor this November replacing Dave Beaudet. The next 4 years are the most important as we need a Mayor that is going to work WITH everyone NOT AGAINST everyone.

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