Committee advances infrastructure project

A city committee is recommending the Minot City Council move forward with a $31 million downtown infrastructure improvement project.

The city has federal funds to help defray the cost of upgrading the aging infrastructure, making the special assessments more affordable for downtown property owners.

Cindy Hemphill, finance director and acting city manager, told the council’s Finance and Improvements Committee Tuesday that the number of projects that the city is taking on is scheduled to increase the per capita debt from under $1,000 to almost $2,600 this year. However, she added that the debt remains well below the debt limit established in the city’s home rule charter.

If approved by the council Monday, the downtown infrastructure project will go out for bids.

The committee also voted to recommend the council lease a home in southeast Minot to the Men’s Winter Refuge for five years for a token $1 a year. Refuge managment would be responsible for maintenance, repairs and utilities and any renovations approved by the city. The months of operation are October through April.

Men’s Winter Refuge, a project of a coalition of churches, operated for a time this past winter at a temporary location owned by First Lutheran Church.

The committee postponed action related to a lease of city-owned farmland near the lagoon after concerns were raised about the amount of money the city is paying for damages to area farmers from alleged lagoon leakage. The committee sought more information related to the payments.

Public works director Dan Jonasson said the city has been paying the damages for several years but plans to propose a study in 2015 to determine whether leakage is actually occurring. He said the $100,000 estimated cost of the study has prevented the city from conducting it previously.

Council member Larry Frey questioned city staff about efforts being made to eliminate encroachment on the flood-control dike system.

Jonasson said the city has no personnel to walk the dikes to check for encroachment but does respond when items come to their attention. He explained that the dike is in as good a condition as it was before the 2011 flood. Due to new Corps of Engineer standards since then, though, the dike was cited as having issues, including encroachment from trees or other vegetation.

Jonasson said the Corps has backed away from enforcement against tree encroachment after facing a lawsuit in California. The Corps could not prove in that case that trees jeopardize the integrity of a levee, he said. The Corps still recommends trees be removed, though. The city does not allow people to plant vegetation or install fences on dikes.