BELDING — The city of Belding is one step, or peddle, closer to watching its expired railway transform into a paved bike trail.
City Council members voted to enter into an agreement Tuesday evening approving the engineering costs of the upcoming 2.2-mile Fred Meijer River Valley Rail Trail Project, but not without scrutiny from one council member.
Council members approved a revised professional services agreement with Williams and Works — a Grand Rapids-based surveying and engineering company — for $181,800, in a 4-1 vote. Council member Joe Feuerstein opposed.
The new adjusted costs are an additional $109,000 from the original $72,000 submitted by Williams and Works, as it only covered design engineering and not construction engineering.
The firm was selected amongst two bids by the council in March of 2013 as the design engineer for the project and has been working throughout the past year to finalize the total cost for construction engineering.
But wordage in the original agreement between the firm and the city had Feuerstein asking why the council was agreeing to the revised bid.
Feuerstein said he had raised concerns because the company council did not choose in 2013, —Fleis and Vandenbrink — had submitted a bit at a lesser cost of $41,000.
“What concerns me the most is the other company that bid, it was only half as much,” Feuerstein said. “I’m concerned that this here $109,000 added to the original deal we voted on might be less with (the other bid).”
Feuerstein said he was upset about one sentence in the original agreement that read: “The city of Belding intends to retain the firm selected for the design phase to provide necessary construction phase services for this project.”
Feuerstein said the word “intends” should allow the city to seek additional bids for the engineering construction costs.
“We’re not having any bids on this, and that’s what upsets me,” he said. “The first bid was for $72,000, which was twice as much as the other company. Now you’re adding $109,000 to it. It’s just an amendment without any other bids.”
Williams and Works Project manager Dave Austin was on hand to answer questions and stated that council members “purposefully did not ask for a price for construction and engineering services” in the original 2013 agreement so that costs could be negotiated at a later date.
“It was your intent to negotiate the construction and engineering services with the design firm after the project was bid prior to construction,” Austin said. “The reason that I believe you did that is because the entire scope of the project, the extent of the activities, are unknown. This is an opportunity to have a better scope with which to see.”
Austin added that with the original construction engineering budget established at $195,000, a cheaper bid from another firm would likely point to less quality work.
“Anyone who’s going to bid less, and we don’t encourage you bid engineering, but if someone is giving you a lower bid, assuming everything else is the same, then they are giving you less service,” he said. “We encourage you not to do that.”
But Feuerstein said he was still disappointed that Council was being presented with the amendment only a few weeks before construction is expected to begin.
“Things happen this way in this town all the time,” Feuerstein said. “They come up the last minute and you can never find out anything. It’s hard to get information in this town about what is going on.”
Austin apologized for not having kept in closer contact with the city as final amendments were made, but stated he was confident that the amended total cost, which came in $17,000 under budget, was a fair agreement.
“There was was no malicious intent on my part in this being brought to your attention,” he said. “All this time we’ve been thinking that we’re going to be working on the construction with you, but a lot of things have to come into place for us to be able to finalize that number.”
Feuerstein said he still wanted the additional $109,000 to be up for bid.“We haven’t had no negotiation,” he stated.
Austin stressed that regardless of what firm the city chose for construction engineering, it would not affect the amount owed out of the city’s general fund for the project, which is locked in at $25,000, or two percent of the total project cost.
“I understand your point, but you’re still ahead of the game,” Austin said. “The cost savings, if any, wouldn’t be given to the city. This is all paid for through grants.”
Of the entire $1,239,582.80 total project cost, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) is paying $854,894.74.
That left the city with a responsibility of $384,688.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources will pay $300,000, with additional grants coming from the Meijer Foundation ($92,000) and Friends of the Flat River Valley Rail Trail ($52,000).
With the project coming in under budget, $84,311.94 remains available for contingencies.
“All of the engineering that is incurred by you on the design and construction phases is eligible for grant funding,” Austin said.
Austin added that part of the reason the total costs came under budget is because his company will also be working on two other nearby projects, one on the Main Street Bridge in Belding and another on Long Lake road northeast of the city, during the same timeframe.
“We knew we would already be in town and we anticipated being here for the rail trail, which is why you received very favorable prices for the Main Street Bridge project,” Austin said. “We came in about $70,000 less in our bid for that project because we knew we would be here to handle the trail.”
With the agreement approved, construction is expected to begin April 1, weather permitting.
The project consists of approximately 2.2 miles of non-motorized trail through rural, residential, commercial and industrial areas within and adjacent to the city of Belding on the former Mid Michigan Railroad. The route includes three river crossings on existing rail bridges.
The project is budgeted to last 18 weeks, with completion expected in August.