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City studying how to handle aging infrastructure

A consultant is studying how to deal with its aging infrastructure north of Interstate 94 without spiking special assessments for some of its established neighborhoods.

City Administrator Tina Fisk said the City Commission approved in February hiring Advanced Engineering to do a comprehensive study on the city's core infrastructure roughly between Main Avenue and 13th Avenue South between the Red River Valley Fairgrounds and Ninth Street East.

The $325,500 study will examine the area's sewer, storm water, streets and sidewalks to determine what needs repair. Much of the infrastructure was built when West Fargo was initially incorporated, between the 1940s and 1970s.

Advanced Engineering will also prioritize the projects for the city, laying out when to do them and what projects can wait, Fisk said.

Once a list of projects is in place, the consultants will also suggest methods to pay for them.

Planning Director Larry Weil was given the new title of community services director, which will allow him to focus on the needs of the current community, including finding funding sources for aging infrastructure, such as state, federal or grant money.

Weil said West Fargo did not have a community development plan like Fargo's; instead, the city considered issues on a case-by-case basis.

"We've responded to requests from the community," Weil said. "We're looking at developing a more consistent program to respond to the community's needs."

Fisk said most residents of the area that will be studied pay no or relatively low special assessments compared to those south of Interstate 94. However, with a high number of established homes, the city hopes to keep any special assessments very low, if needed at all.

"We'll explore every option we can to keep those low or off the table," Fisk said.

One option to pay for infrastructure repairs may be to use money from the city's 1-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2014. At the time, the city had already identified about 60 infrastructure projects totaling more than $124 million over the next 20 years that included new water towers, new streets and replacing some aging infrastructure. The additional 1-cent sales tax was expected to bring in about $80 million over 20 years.

Not all streets are anticipated to need full replacement.

"There's probably still areas that may not need any work for 15 years," Public Works Director Chris Brungardt said.

A rough estimate of the most complicated repair needed is about $500 per linear foot of street.

"That's what it would cost if crews had to replace everything on a street—the road, sewer, stormwater, sidewalks—and that is highly unlikely," Fisk said. "Again, that is worst case, and it's highly unlikely the city would pass the full costs on to residents."

Advanced Engineering is expected to return the study in October. At that time, Fisk said the city will likely begin scheduling public meetings to discuss the potential projects.

"The commission will decide how to move forward," Fisk said. "But we are trying to be as open and transparent about this process as possible."

Wendy Reuer

Wendy reports for The Forum and West Fargo Pioneer, where she is also assistant editor. A University of Minnesota Morris graduate from North Dakota, Wendy started her career in television news and entertainment in Minnesota and at CBS in Television City, Calif. before working at newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota. 

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