FL Council debates RFP for new engineering firm

Clint Riese
Staff Writer

Could Forest Lake’s four-decade relationship with the engineering company now known as Stantec be coming to an end?

That firm has handled engineering duties here starting with Forest Lake Township and continuing through the merger with the city of Forest Lake, but the recent resignation of former City Engineer Ryan Goodman, of Stantec, may have opened the door for the city to at least take a look elsewhere.

At Monday’s Forest Lake City Council meeting, City Administrator Aaron Parrish sought approval to send out a request for proposals for consulting engineering services. The request came shortly after Stantec’s Lee Mann introduced himself to the council as Goodman’s replacement and expressed hopes of long-term continued partnership.

Lengthy discussion resulted in no formal action. Councilwoman Susan Young vowed to abstain from a vote, citing part-time work with an engineering firm that could potentially respond to an RFP. That left Mayor Chris Johnson and councilman Jim DuFour in favor of the request and council members Mike Freer and Jackie McNamara opposed.

Tschida’s View

Forest Lake resident Dick Tschida spoke in favor of retaining Stantec.

“Coming up to speed in engineering is not cheap,” he said. “Having the resources that they have…I’m real concerned about your request for proposal. You might get someone who will nickel and dime you and put the entire community at risk or create a stumbling block.”

Parrish emphasized that the proposal is in no way a reflection of dissatisfaction with Stantec. Seeking other bids would not prevent the city from ultimately choosing to retain Stantec, Parrish also noted.

“I would concur with many of the comments that Mr. Tschida made in terms of historical perspective and continuity and I think that as we go through the process that will be an asset from Stantec’s perspective, but I also think there’s been a lot of conversation out there relative to just doing the appropriate amount of due diligence as we do these things,” Parrish said.

Despite choosing not to vote, Young appeared to back the proposal. She noted that City Attorney David Hebert has been retained after a similar process explored other options.

Both Johnson and Freer acknowledged they were on the fence before making their feelings known.

“I’m really torn on this one, I have to be honest,” Freer said. “I like the idea of going out for the RFP but I also think engineering is one of the critical functions of government and 40 years of history is very, very difficult to replace monetarily…Some things are worth the price, and I’m not sure this is a good idea.”

Parrish’s proposed schedule would have seen the RFP advertised this week with submittals due June 6. Staff would have narrowed the responses to three or four, and a selection committee would have interviewed final candidates before final city council approval on June 25.

Zoning approvals

A pair of zoning-related requests earned unanimous approval from the council. An interim use permit will allow owner Mark Smith of White Bear lake to farm 105 acres behind Menard’s and bordering the Anoka County line. The undeveloped land is currently zoned for highway commercial and mixed residential purposes, but with waning interest on those fronts, Smith wants to farm it for now until the market heats up.

The second request allowed a replatting of lots at the corner of 199th Street North and Fern Glen Lane in the Headwaters Third Addition. The three existing lots will now expand via the incorporation of an empty outlot. The request stemmed from a potential homeowner’s desire to build a large house that would need the extra space.

Community Development Director Doug Borglund said there is interest in bigger lots in the area given the size of houses being built.

“If this is what the market is dictating, I don’t want to stand in the way,” said Mayor Johnson.

Construction update

The detour re-routing westbound traffic starting at the roundabout downtown was set to end this Tuesday, Joe Campbell of Washington County told the council.

Landscaping bids for the Broadway Avenue Corridor came in under estimate, with the one from Peterson Companies of Chisago City being accepted. Sod will soon be installed from 19th Street through 8th Street.

Campbell estimated that the westbound lane will be completed by the end of May, at which time work will commence on the eastbound lane.

EDA talks marina, airport business park

The public has not heard much on the possibility of building a public marina at Lakeside Memorial Park since the topic first surfaced last November but the concept is still swimming.

Johnson provided an update on the idea during Monday’s Economic Development Authority meeting. It was on hold during the city’s recent strategic planning initiative, Johnson said, but is now ready for further discussion. In fact, the city council labeled the project a priority during the strategic planning process.

It will now be up to the EDA on June 11 to decide whether to go forward with a $19,000 feasibility report by Stantec. The money was not budgeted, so it would come out of the EDA’s overall fund balance.

EDA member Mark Finnemann found agreement with his colleagues when he questioned whether the bill could be lowered by having some of the work done by city staff. Stantec’s Mann indicated that could be possible, but the exact division of the duties would need to be hammered out.

Johnson agreed the city could prepare a preliminary overview for the June 11 meeting and the EDA could go from there. He said the marina would stay under 20,000 square feet in order to avoid regulations and costly mandatory studies, and hold about 50 slips.

“You know, when I first heard that they were putting a bridge over Broadway, I thought that was a bad idea, but I think now it’s a nice amenity to add character to the downtown, and maybe, too, a marina would add character that later people would come to appreciate,” Johnson said.

In other items, the EDA took action to fast-track the discussion of whether to establish a tax increment financing (TIF) district to help lure a significant employer to the Airport Business Park. A business is interested in construction a 93,400-square-foot building and will have representation at a joint workshop of the EDA and city council at 6 p.m. next Monday.

“This project represents an opportunity to help a significant employer, create significant tax base and kick-start development in our Airport Business Park,” Parrish wrote in a staff report.

The next two steps required approval on Monday in order to keep the project on its proposed timeline. The EDA voted to set a public hearing on June 24 to consider the adoption of a business subsidy policy and criteria. Members also recommend that the council set a public hearing for that same night to consider establishing the new TIF district. The council did set that hearing at its subsequent meeting on Monday.