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Afton approves bid for $12.5 million downtown project

In likely the largest and most expensive project to date, the Afton City Council approved a more than $12 million contract bid for the city's downtown improvement project last Tuesday.

The three-year-long project includes reconstruction of the flood levee along the St. Croix River, building new roads and sidewalks, and construction of a sewage and sanitation system.

City officials noted in 2014 that major floods during the past 50 years have resulted in substantial damages and subsequent costs for residents and businesses as well as government agencies in the downtown area.

Coming in at $12,542,476, the council approved the construction bid to its lowest bidder, Watkins-based contractor Geislinger & Sons Inc.

Though the company's bid was only about $100,000 more than the city's estimate, some councilmembers were perplexed by large cost differences between the two bidding contractors for specific tasks, such as painting street lines, as well as tree and building removal.

Ryan Contracting Co., whose overall bid was the highest, also bid about $20,000 less than Geislinger & Sons Inc. for painting yellow and white street lines.

Councilmembers also noted contractors' bids for tasks like de-watering—a process that involves pumping water out of the ground before construction can begin—were more than double the city's initial estimate.

The city estimated the cost for de-watering would be $150,000, but Ryan Contracting Co. and Geislinger & Sons Inc. bid $300,000 and $375,000 for the process, respectively.

"My gut reaction is, can we cherry pick?" Councilmember Randy Nelson said.

Councilmember Bill Palmquist said the city has known for years about potential development issues due to wet ground caused by a fluctuating water table that is in close proximity to the river.

City Engineer Todd Hubmer said that the variances in bid costs for specific items weren't a concern since the overall bid was close to the city's estimate.

"The water bounced 10 feet while we were doing bids, and I'm sure that didn't help us in the de-watering discussion because they saw the water come up," Hubmer said. "These are what they take into consideration."

The project is also contingent upon a state agency identifying historic sites and if and how construction will affect those sites.

The city expects that process will be completed next month.