Bids come in high for Chelsea, Camp 8 dams
Committee accepts bids from Pember Companies for Chelsea dam, Minger Construction for Camp 8
More than a decade of dam drama had one last twist on Friday as bids came in higher than expected for the Chelsea Lake Dam and the Camp 8 dam projects leading to questions on if the committee could approve the bids received or if it had to go back to the full county board.
A decade ago, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources ordered rehabilitation of the Chelsea Lake Dam. Questions over its ownership and who should be responsible for its ongoing maintenance delayed work being done until it was confirmed the county had ownership and was responsible for the work to be done.
In the meantime, a review of the earthen dam at Camp 8 flowage found that structure needed to be overhauled after nearly 50 years. Engineers said the dam needed to be replaced.
After lengthy discussions and back and forth with landowners and stakeholders, the county approved moving forward with the dam work in 2019 and in winter 2020 worked with Ayres Associates to submit a state grant which would cover half of the construction and engineering costs.
The two dam projects narrowly missed qualifying for the grant with Camp 8 one point away from qualifying and Chelsea Lake Dam about 16 points from qualifying. It was also discovered that due to an oversight by Ayres, the approved plans for the two dams had not been submitted prior to the deadline costing each project 20 points in the grant rating system.
While it is almost certain the additional points would have made the Camp 8 project qualify for the grant, the Chelsea Dam would have been very close to qualifying also. In Summer 2020, the county committee members and attorney met with representatives from Ayres Associates including senior leadership and came to an agreement to wait and apply for the grants during the next grant cycle in winter 2022 and see how they fared and if there was additional expense to the county.
Last winter, the county applied for the grants and received word in early summer that they had been approved for the 50% funding from the state. The county then contracted with Ayres to move forward with bidding and oversight of the projects.
The bids for the Chelsea Lake Dam project were opened on December 8 and the Camp 8 Dam project were opened on January 5 with both projects brought to the January 6 committee meeting for action by the forestry and recreation committee.
The Chelsea Dam project received three bids. Pember Companies of Menomonie submitted a bid of $270,269. Janke General Contractors of Athens submitted a bid of $409,422. Michels Construction of Brownsville submitted a bid of $424,954.75. In addition, the county has additional costs with Ayres to oversee construction at a cost of $24,740. Going with the low bid from Pember, the total cost would be $295,009.
This compares to the estimate of probable cost from Ayres from last winter of $224,564 or $70,446 over the estimate. The dam replacement in 2020 was projected to cost $199,619.
There were also three bids received for the Camp 8 dam project. Minger Construction Companies of Jordan, Minn. bid $320,986. Pember bid $381,589 and Nordic Underwater Services of Carlton, Minn. bid $396,350 for the work. In addition, the county had an engineering contract with Ayres for $23,030. Going with the low bid from Minger and the engineering contract, the total cost is $344,016.
This compares to the estimate of probable cost from Ayres from last winter of $314,040 or $29,976 over the estimate. The dam replacement in 2020 was projected to cost $293,461.
According to forest administrator Jake Walcisak, the county’s dam replacement account, which is from previous year carryovers in forest logging revenue, is $37,131.60 short from being able to completely cover the county’s cost for the dam projects. However, there are other places within the forestry budget where the funds could be taken from to have no net impact on county taxpayers.
Committee chairman Scott Mildbrand raised the issue of if the committee could even act on accepting the bids. He cited a resolution that was passed by the county board which he interprets as saying that no committee can exceed $100,000 in estimated cost without getting approval from the full county board. He looked at both dam projects being combined to exceed the limit set by the resolution. He said he had asked the county’s attorney for an opinion on if this would apply in the case of the two dam projects.
Mildbrand also raised the question of if the county should go back and reconsider a lower-priced dam option for Chelsea Lake Dam. The option that was sent to bid calls for a permanent concrete spillway that is set as a specific lake level, the lower cost option would utilize the same sort of stop-logs currently in place which would require county employees to regularly monitor the water level and remove or add logs as needed to maintain the lake level. The county board had voted 9-8 to go with the maintenance free option.
Mildbrand also voiced concern with Ayres for the 2020 error costing the county grant funds at that time.
“It is going to cost our taxpayers a lot of money because they screwed up,” Mildbrand said. “That really bothers me.” Mildbrand suggested delaying approval of the projects until they resolved the issue with Ayres over potential damages the county had due to their mistake in 2020.
Walcisak noted that in the two years since the last grant cycle, inflation has gone up a lot.
Committee member Myron Brooks said he was glad to see the bid from Pember and expressed concern about waiting too long to approve it and potentially losing it. The bid was good for 45 days giving the county to January 20 accept it.
Walcisak said he would be meeting with the county’s attorney that afternoon to begin the discussions over Ayres and what remedy the county may seek. He said he did not see it being resolved by January 20.
County Board member Lester Lewis spoke at the committee saying he felt that the two projects should be looked at together as exceeding the amount and that they should go back to the county board. County board chairman Jim Metz said he would be willing to call a county board meeting for the issue if the committee felt one was needed.
“I don’t believe between now and January 20th that it would be likely to resolve the matter with Ayres,” Walcisak said. He said he felt they are two separate tracks and that the county should move forward with the projects and work for a resolution with Ayres separately.
He noted that if the county turned down both projects, they would still have a signed contract with Ayres for $48,000 worth of oversight work that would have to be paid out.
Mildbrand returned to the question of if committee members felt there was support to revisit the Chelsea Lake Dam design. Walcisak said the projected cost savings at the time the decision was made was $30,000. Revisiting it now would delay the work another year and require it to be re-engineered and rebid with those costs, it might save the county $15,000 in construction costs and result in a structure with an 85-year life expectancy to one with a 45-year life expectancy.
As far as going to full county board, Mildbrand said he favored going to the full board. “I just hate to keep the full board in the dark about something that is this much money,” he said.
Committee member Rollie Thums expressed concern about potentially losing the bid from Pember or that if they ended up rebidding that it would be much higher.
Another option Mildbrand suggested was to accept the low bid from Pember for Chelsea and reject the Camp 8 bid and start over with that project.
Committee member Jim Gebauer opposed that idea. “We would be going backward,” he said.
Committee member Gary Beadles also disagreed with delaying action on the bids. He noted the total shortfall from what the county has in the dam replacement budget is only $37,000. “$37,000 is a portion of one timber sale,” he said, putting it into perspective of the forestry revenues.
Brooks agreed and noted that he felt the county would get something from Ayres, although both he and Beadles said that was a separate issue than the bid approval.
“Every time you pause it will add costs,” Thums said.
“I know that I am really cheap. That is why I am delaying on this, I get that,” Mildbrand said, explaining why he was hesitant to move forward with the bid approvals.
In the end, committee members approved a motion to accept the bids and move forward with the projects on a 4-1 vote with Mildbrand opposed.
In other business, committee members: Approved purchasing a new Ford Super Duty F-250 pickup truck for a base price of $46,593 from Ewald Automotive Group of Hartford. With options and a $1,795 destination charge the total price is $54,539. The county had placed the order for the truck from Medford Motors over a year ago, but it was canceled by Ford. The same truck through Medford Motors this year would have cost the county $49,546. The existing truck will be sold to the county’s buildings and grounds department for $15,000. It was noted that the fair market value of the truck is $26,000 and that the county saves money through transferring the forestry vehicles to other departments where they are “run into the ground.” Mildbrand and Thums voted against the truck purchase wanting the county to delay the purchase to save money. “I think we spend too much on new equipment,” Mildbrand said.
Approved moving ahead with putting out on bid the planting of an 11-acre pine plantation that was cut in 2019. The parcel had originally been planted in red pine 84 years ago and had been an abandoned farm field. Walcisak estimated that about 9,000 trees would be planted on the acreage.
Received an update on the ongoing cleanup in the county forest and on the trail systems from the winter ice and snow storms that took down a lot of trees and branches. Walcisak projected the extent of the damages may not be known until spring and that many of the smaller trees that were bent over due to the ice may not recover.