Council OKs road project

Timing of paving questioned by some

ISHPEMING — After years of deterioration, the primary road leading to Bell Hospital in Ishpeming has been smoothed. But the process of making it that way has turned out to be bumpy, for some.

A $40,600 bid award to Superior Paving to pave the portion of North Lakeshore Boulevard from the intersection of U.S. 41 to the hospital was approved by the Ishpeming City Council in a 4-1 vote during a recent regular meeting.

At the time of the meeting, City Manager Mark Slown said most of the work, including hand patching or wedging existing pavement, installing butt joints at the north and south end along Jubilee parking lot and the installation of a 1 1/2 inch overlay, had already been completed.

“It was an urgent item, we had the opportunity to get it done, and I did go out on a limb and authorize them to proceed,” Slown told the council. “I hope you will confirm it.”

Councilman Stuart Skauge, who voted against awarding the bid, expressed concern that Slown authorized the work without first consulting the council.

“I don’t think the manager has the authority per the city charter to go out and spend $40,000,” Skauge said. “I understand the need for it, but I think we should have had at least a minor discussion about where we could have spent the extra money the state is coming forward with because of the new road taxes and license plate taxes.”

The Department of Public Works patched the potholes on Lakeshore Boulevard in the spring as an interim action, Slown said, but he also instructed DPW Director Jon Kangas to plan project specifications too for a long-term solution to improve the condition of North Lakeshore drive.

Slown said the city used a portion of an estimated 20 percent increase in Act 51 funding, which was authorized by the State of Michigan in 2016 to pay for the repairs.

“In May 2017, the City Finance Director (Jim Lampman) was able to determine that the increase would be enough to fund the estimated cost of the North Lakeshore project,” Slown said. “So I directed Jon Kangas to obtain bids.”

Kangas received the bids on May 26, Slown said, and placed the item on the agenda for the June 7 city council meeting.

Kangas said Superior Paving had a June 5 opening in their schedule — two days prior to the planned award of the project at the June 7 meeting.

In an email this week, Kangas said he encouraged Slown to “make every attempt possible to avoid delaying the work” citing the condition of the roadway, the start of a busy construction season and the immediate availability of the contractor who submitted the low bid for the project.

“Delaying a maintenance project on the roadway would have led to significant safety concerns on the primary access to the only hospital in western Marquette County,” Kangas said. “Once we received bids for the work, we wanted to complete the work as soon as reasonably possible, and specifically before the Fourth of July.”

The city had sought Small Urban Grant funding from the Michigan Department of Transportation for a total street reconstruction project, Kangas said, including curb and gutter and nonmotorized facilities, but the request was not approved in the last round of funding.

Slown said the city of Ishpeming has won about $2 million in grant funding for specific street repair projects since 2015.

Kangas said the next round of funding for the grant is at least three years out.

Slown said he had three options: delay the project, request a special meeting, or authorize the project to proceed — hoping council would confirm it after the fact.

“I admit that I exceeded my authority by directing the project to proceed on Monday, June 5, 2017, without prior authorization from the City Council,” Slown said. “For the record, I will not do this again.”

City Councilman Karl Lehmann said during an interview Thursday that although he feels the council should have had input on how the increased Act 51 funding to the city was spent and Slown’s actions were inappropriate, the matter has been resolved.

“The whole thing falls under, was it an emergency, or was it not an emergency? In my view it wasn’t an emergency,” Lehmann said. “It’s a done deal now, and the pavement’s down and the city manager has been directed not to do anything like that again.”

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is lbowers@miningjournal.net.