Oak Park Heights, MnDOT, wrangle over bridge plan changes

Oak Park Heights city staff say a potential change in plans for the St. Croix Crossing bridge project would make it more difficult and costly for the city to maintain a section of its water main just south of Highway 36 near Oakgreen Avenue. They are asking the Minnesota Department of Transportation to stick to the original plan of replacing the utility.

Concerns over the water main caused tension between the city council and a Minnesota Department of Transportation representative during a bridge project update at the Oct. 22 council meeting.

Based on the preliminary MnDOT plans approved by the city council, the section of water main in question runs under the future location of a drainage pond. As a result, the 30-year-old water main was slated for replacement, and the new pipe would run approximately 400 feet south of its current location, according to Oak Park Heights City Engineer Chris Long.

A more recent draft of the plan, received by the city late in the day Oct. 18, shows the water main remaining where it is, with the planned drainage pond split in two, with one pond on each side of the pipe.

“This is a drastic change and will ultimately cost the city more money and maintenance costs, and they’ll be leaving a 30-year-old water main between two ponds,” Long said. “If there’s any problems, the city’s going to have a really hard time getting in there.”

Long said he had been in contact with MnDOT engineers regarding the city’s concerns. He said they had warned him this version of the plan might show this change but that the final plans would call for replacement of the water main as originally intended.

But statements made by MnDOT Project Director John Chiglo at the Oct. 22 council meeting, seemed to suggest the water main may not be replaced.

“We were able to avoid that impact (to the water main) as part of this project,” he said. “That’s always our goal.”

He said MnDOT’s approach in this case is consistent with every project it does statewide — it lists expected impacts and mitigation plans, but it seeks ways to reduce impacts and project costs along the way.

City Attorney Mark Vierling said the city did not agree to this change and would stand by what was shown in the original plans the council approved.

“I don’t think MnDOT has the unilateral right to cancel or change that without city approval,” he said.

Chiglo questioned Vierling’s assessment of the situation, but Chiglo said MnDOT was willing to consider keeping replacement of the line in its plans.

“MnDOT’s very willing to keep this work in the contract,” he said, but he added that it came down to a question of whether the work is a “betterment.”

Some members of the city council seemed to adamantly support replacement of the water main.

Councilmember Mike Runk said when the council agreed to the initial plan, it did so because the water main would be moved.

Mayor Mary McComber pointed out the city council had “extensive conversations” about the water main in the past.

Chiglo said he and his staff would continue to work with city staff to iron out any disagreements, but he said he was disappointed the issue had come up at the meeting. He said he was under the impression that city staff and MnDOT staff had already agreed to work out the problem.

“I’m very surprised it came up in this forum,” he said.

If MnDOT staff do not agree to replace the water main as originally planned, city staff will bring the issue to the city council for discussion.

“It’s an important issue to Chris (Long) and I,” City Administrator Eric Johnson said.

Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]