County accepts bid for bridge replacement

Commission considers bridge, staff bonus, right of way

Ward County commissioners accepted a $1.98 million bid from Swingen Construction, Grand Forks, on Tuesday to construct a new bridge over the Souris River between Velva and Sawyer.

An overweight tractor pulling a plow caused the bridge on the Ward County and McHenry County border to collapse on Oct. 9, 2020.

Ward County Highway Engineer Dana Larsen said construction is scheduled for 2022, with completion by the end of October. Detours have been in place for several residences in the vicinity. Larsen said the detour routes not only add time to the trip but utilize township roads that may not be fully maintained in the winter or that require townships to incur higher maintenance costs.

The construction is part of an estimated $2.6 million total cost for bridge replacement, which includes not only the removal of the old bridge and detour signage but design, engineering and contingencies costs on the new bridge.

Ward County continues to negotiate with the equipment owner’s insurance company regarding the level of reimbursement.

In other business, the Ward County Commission approved bonuses for a dozen facilities management employees who had kept the department operating this fall following the county’s termination of the director and foreman over job-related conflicts. Human Resources Director Tammy Terras told commissioners the staff stepped up and received commendations from county employees on their work. The bonuses come to about $500 per employee for a total of $6,000 that will come out of department salary savings.

The county recently hired Brian Vangsness as new facilities management director.

The former foreman has filed complaints with the North Dakota Department of Labor and Human Rights that allege her firing was in retaliation for bringing a whistleblower complaint against her supervisor.

Also during Tuesday’s meeting, the commission again came up against a portion of its zoning ordinance that it previously had voted not to enforce. The ordinance addresses landowner donation of right of way for roads when lots are platted.

Commissioner Shelly Weppler voted against four plat requests because of the decision of other commissioners to neither enforce nor take steps to change the ordinance.

“I am just concerned that we are continuing to be out of compliance and not taking steps to be in compliance,” Weppler said. “Because I have made efforts in this body to get those changes on our agenda, to get a public hearing held, I am going to vote no so that we know the importance of making sure that we get our zoning ordinances in line with what this body wants.”

Other commissioners declined to consider the issue without having it on the agenda in advance.

Commissioner John Fjeldahl said it was wise to suspend the ordinance, which is in litigation, to give the court system time to act. Although not endorsing the ordinance, a federal judge ruled in March 2020 that the county violated no constitutional rights of landowners. The case is on appeal.

State’s Attorney Roza Larson has recommended the ordinance be changed if the commission does not wish to enforce it.

Commissioner Jim Rostad, newly elected as chairman, said more information is needed. He asked Larsen to report back after further researching the legality of not enforcing an ordinance.


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