Elkader Council discusses Keystone Bridge, Josten resigns

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By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register

 

The Elkader City Council has undertaken quite a few issues in the previous two meetings, as long-thought-resolved topics continue to make appearances. 

 

For starters, the Keystone Bridge project ran into a minor setback when it seemed Bremer County would be unable to get an easement, preventing its own bridge project from moving forward, as well as Elkader’s. The DOT had bundled the two projects together, which was a condition of the grant the city of Elkader received to pay for construction. However, in a rather quick and unexpected turn of events, Elkader City Administrator Jennifer Cowsert was informed Bremer County has been granted the easement. 

 

As a result, Elkader is “still on the March letting for the bridge project,” rather than being pushed to April, which could’ve delayed the project start date until 2022. Cowsert  cautioned, “I suppose it could still depend on the contractor if they start this year, but we have a much better chance that they will start this spring than when the bid was April.” 

 

The easement wasn’t the only discussion over the Keystone Bridge project. The other is who the city council will choose as the on-site inspector during construction. Julie Neebel and Nate Miller, representing IIW, the company responsible for the bridge designs, argued that, due to their intimate knowledge of the design, “they could handle the complexity of it [and] design knowledge will help keep the project on schedule.” They also mentioned the company’s extensive history of success with similar projects, the transparency of their services and maintaining an open line of communication with city leaders. 

 

The other person vying for the position was Jason Miller from MSA, who emphasized his experience and history working with Elkader on other projects. 

 

One issue that arose during the debate was the disparity in the number of on-site hours estimated by both companies. According to Cowsert, IIW “thought it would take about 1,000 more hours than MSA did.” 

 

This drew pushback, most notably from council member Daryl Koehn, who was perturbed about the rising engineering cost associated with IIW. Koehn noted how the engineering cost had doubled, a fact supported by Cowsert, who said, “the cost estimate for construction and engineering was about half of what it is now.” 

 

“The cost went through the roof [and] I think your engineering costs are excessive,” Koehn said. 

 

Neebel attempted to explain the rise in cost, suggesting there were changes to the original design that were “extensive.” He said adding tie rods and keeping the bridge open for pedestrians, specifically, were missed in the original calculation.

 

Koehn quickly responded, “The engineering costs are just terrible. How did you miss it by that much?” 

 

However, Neebel stated the on-site hours, which account for a portion of the increase, are just an estimate. 

 

“You only pay for the hours you use,” she said. Her counterpart added that the hours are simply an estimate, but he also said, “I don’t expect it to be more, but I can’t make promises.” 

 

Again, Koehn was unconvinced. “The $645,000 fee is not written in stone; it could go up,” he said. 

 

There are also complications that can arise by switching engineers midstream, as would be the case if the council chooses MSA over IIW. MSA’s estimate could simply be too low, despite no one effectively detailing where the extra 1,000 hours from IIW are coming from. Another revolves around the project handoff. When asked by council member Peggy Lane if IIW had ever handed projects off before, Neebel confirmed it had, but it is not the norm. Complex projects such as the Keystone Bridge make it hard for the new engineer “to be brought up to speed about.” 

 

Miller also hinted at additional costs if the plans change due to complications or “if the plans are not sufficient,” at which point you have to return to the original design engineer, which comes with another cost. Since it’s not part of the actual construction, the city would be responsible. The council tabled the discussion for next meeting, when both IIW and MSA will provide estimates that can be compared more fully.  

 

Ed Josten resigns

In a surprising development, Ed Josten officially resigned as a member of the city council on Feb. 8. Josten sent an email to the council, mayor and city administrator, stating the decision to resign was based on “personal reasons that didn’t exist when I decided to run for office.” 

 

The city has sent out a public notice with the intent to fill the vacancy by appointment and all interested persons should contact the city clerk at elkaderadmin@alpinecom.net or (563) 245-2098 to receive a questionnaire. The questionnaire needs to be returned by noon on Friday, Feb. 19.

 

All interested persons are also requested to attend the city council meeting on Monday, Feb. 22, at city hall, at which time the council will take into consideration the matter of the appointment to fill this vacancy.

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