The Rushford Municipal Airport has seen several projects take shape in the last few years with more than a handful prompted by the devastating fire of a six-unit hangar in October 2019. At the June 28, 2021 council meeting, several issues related to projects saw approvals as well as notes of frustration.
First up, the Pavement Improvement Project. This is underway to correct poor subgrade on one section of the taxiway. According to the change order, the poor material was encountered in two areas and, after some work, still failed to meet the required densities. The work will require additional excavation and break rock at a cost of $12,916. The cost is expected to be fully covered by a Federal Aviation Administration grant.
The project was supposed to be done two years ago, but was put off because of cold temperatures and then the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s possible things got worse from when we first started working on the project,” noted Zacher. The project is still slated to be completed by the end of June, even with the additional six work days anticipated.
Also receiving unanimous approval was a state grant agreement for the purchase of the Thompson Hangar on the airport grounds. While no federal funds were authorized for the agreement, the state is allocating 75% of the total $55,000 purchase, while the city is responsible for the remaining quarter share. The city’s portion is $13,750.
A state grant agreement was approved for engineering and site prep for a new four-unit T-hangar to replace the larger hangar lost to the fire. The breakdown of funding includes 75% contribution by the state for engineering and construction administration, site prep including floor and foundation, and T-hangar addition structure. This equates to $255,255 of the $716,974 total project. The city will contribute 25%, or $85,086, for these aspects, plus the $376,633 received for the T-hangar building insurance.
“Insurance will give us a lump sum to put a building on the site, but first we have to do the engineering and site prep. If we don’t have enough, the state might kick in more,” noted City Clerk/Treasurer Kathy Zacher. “We will also ask the insurance company to review the project. The estimate from the engineer was pre-COVID. Now, a four-unit costs the same as what our previous six-unit cost.”
Along with the state agreement for the T-hangar was consideration for approval of a Task Order with Airport Engineer Mead & Hunt, Inc. for professional design and construction administration services for the proposed hangar. According to the summary, the project schedule includes preliminary design to be completed in July, performance documents in August and September, bid assistance in October and November with construction to begin in April 2022 and wrap up in July 2022. Estimated base bid construction cost is $623,725. Alternate 1, addition of a fifth hangar unit to the design, is $779,225 and Alternate 2 is addition of both Alternate 1 and a sixth hangar unit to the design, a total estimated cost of $934,725.
Councilor Leigh Volkmann expressed concerns with the engineer’s level of responsibility. “Help me understand the engineering… basically it says they’re not responsible for anything? How do you hold anyone responsible for cost overruns? Aren’t they the ones we’re hiring to keep it from running over? They’re not responsible for anything other than design?”
Zacher noted the engineering firm either has an engineer or project manager on site during the most days of the project. It’s designed to meet state standards, but their hands-on level with the project may depend on the experience level of the contractor. “I think it’s pretty standard,” she responded. “If the prices come in higher than they estimate it’s not necessarily their fault.”
“But, if the price comes in lower, they take the credit,” quipped Councilor Jim O’Donnell.
“When you looked at the picture, it was obvious there was a base problem. Did they not know it was there before they started?” asked Volkmann. “And with the electrical project… didn’t they know they’d need a switch? Didn’t know they’d need ventilation? Problems could snowball. They didn’t do their due diligence.”
City Administrator Tony Chladek attempted to calm concerns by noting that the FAA has reviewed the order. “There’s more than one engineer looking at all this and approving.”
“Water, sewer, street engineers… they can’t guarantee you anything, but have a certain level that if things are normal, this is what to expect,” added Zacher.
“But, how do you help some of those cost overruns? There must be ways,” countered Volkmann. “Just because it’s a city…”
“…doesn’t mean we have bottomless pockets,” finished O’Donnell.
Mayor Terri Benson suggested Mead & Hunt representatives attend future council meetings where such issues are discussed, particularly because the Airport Commission, to whom they normally present information, is currently one member plus council representative Volkmann. “Once they have it, why do they feel confident in what they’ve proposed? It might be helpful in regaining our confidence in them since there was this miscommunication or misdirection in the electrical. We hired them and we’re paying them. I think that would be fair. With something this big, I think they could make trips,” she added. The council ended discussion by approving the Task Order unanimously.
In other news, the council approved an Electric Service Agreement between the city and MiEnergy. According to documentation, there are five points highlighted. They include 1) current term extended to January 1, 2035 2) effective date amended to January 1, 2035; 3) modification of the city rate to reflect savings in wholesale cost from Dairyland Power ceasing to recover third-party transmission charges in its rate to MiEnergy; 4) remaining provisions, including automatic renewals or extensions absent either party serving notice of termination, remain in force and; 5) agreement to execute and deliver amendment and perform to agreed upon terms.
The council also held a closed meeting following the regular meeting to discuss the potential purchase of the Farmers Win Coop properties in downtown Rushford. A summary following the meeting from Zacher indicated that two Economic Development Authority members were present and discussed the options, offer and counteroffer from Farmers Win Coop. No action was taken at this time to allow those not able to view the buildings time to do so. The issue will be discussed again in the coming months.
The next regularly scheduled council meeting is Monday, July 12, at 6:30 p.m., at city hall. The meeting is open to the public.