to be explored
Havre Daily News
With the First Street reconstruction project in jeopardy, Montana Department of Transportation administrators will meet Tuesday to set some solid cost estimates to bring to Havre and Hill County officials for discussion.
The $20 million reconstruction project scheduled to begin as early as the spring of 2006 cannot go forward until Hill County agrees to pay some of the costs, estimated at $500,000, MDT district administrator Mick Johnson has said.
Hill County commissioner Doug Kaercher said they'll need to see solid, justifiable cost figures before the commission agrees to anything, and Johnson said the purpose of Tuesday's meeting is to get those numbers to the Hill County Commission.
After Tuesday's meeting, Johnson said, MDT will schedule another meeting with Hill County and Havre officials.
The First Street project is the biggest, most important project the Great Falls office is working on, Johnson said.
His staff will meet Tuesday, "To find out what the costs are, what the breakdown is" between the state, city and county contributions, he said.
Much of the $20 million reconstruction will be paid for with state and federal dollars. At issue is the cost for rebuilding the storm sewer system that passes runoff under First Street to the Milk River. The cost must be shared among the state, city and county.
Johnson said at the meeting he'll work out an updated figure for the drainage project's cost, estimated last month at $6 million, as well as a precise breakdown of who will pay for what. Kaercher said the commissioners need to know "How they calculate their figures for what they're expecting the county to pay."
The state is responsible for draining all of the water that falls a block north and a block south of First Street, Johnson said. It has agreed to pay a large portion of the drainage costs.
The rest of the drainage cost not covered by the state will need to be covered by the city and county based on where the runoff originates.
BNSF Railway has already made its contribution by building storm drains on its property, Johnson said.
City public works director Dave Peterson has said Havre agreed a few months ago to pay $3.4 million for its portion of the storm drain costs, with $2.1 million coming from state-allocated funds and $1.3 million officials say will probably be covered by a loan and increased water rates.
All surface water runoff in Havre is passed under First Street to the Milk River through a drainage system that engineers have said was inadequate when the road was built in the 1950s.
The Hill County commissioners last month were concerned that MDT was asking county residents to come up with more than their share. Surveyors hired to determine which entity is responsible for what amount of runoff submitted maps to the county that were outdated and assigned land to the county that has since been annexed by the city.
Johnson said he and his staff will take a look at that problem Tuesday and will use current area maps.
The commissioners are also concerned that whatever costs are assessed to the county will have to be shared by a small number of residents, only those who live in the area that drains under First Street.
Kaercher said there is no way to assess drainage costs countywide.
He said the county would have to create a rural special improvement district, and commissioners have said most of the residents in the area would have to agree.
Finally, much of the land in the area of the county that does drain under First Street is owned by the city, county officials have said. They questioned the logic of charging the county for a cost it will just have to shift back to the city.
Johnson said today the state could not absorb any costs the county refuses to pay.
Much of the state's road funds come from the federal government, along with strict rules on how it is to be used.
"I don't want to risk losing federal money because I did something I wasn't supposed to," Johnson said.
Havre Mayor Bob Rice has said he's concerned that the project is in jeopardy. He could not be reached this morning for comment.