With Cost Increase, Seawall Project to Finish by Grandma's

Baihly Warfield
Updated: June 12, 2019 10:40 PM

When the starting gun goes off for the 2019 William A. Irvin 5k, the ship that gave the race its name won't be there. 


But there will be fresh new sidewalks and a bike path running alongside the partially empty Minnesota Slip. 

"The work that we're doing now is making improvements to help bikers and pedestrians access the Irvin, the Vista Fleet, to travel to and from the DECC," Jim Filby Williams, Duluth's Director of Public Administration, said. 

The pedestrian and bicycle access is a byproduct of the city's seawall reconstruction project. All of the work will finish in time for Grandma's Marathon, Filby Williams said. But there is a funding gap. So the City Council will be asked to fill it using $700,000 from the reserve fund. 

According to Public Information Officer Kate Van Daele, Duluth has $14 million in the reserve fund. City policy is to maintain at least $9 million. 

"The additional appropriation is necessary not because we have had unusual cost overruns, but because we put aside an unusually small amount of funding for contingency," Filby Williams said. 

He said that given the complexity of the seawall reconstruction project, a 20-25% contingency fund probably should have been included in the budget in the first place. But the original plans had only a 6.8% contingency. 

"I think this project was designed and funded in a rush because the seawall and the adjoining areas were collapsing in a way that was creating a significant safety issue," Filby Williams said. 

Assuming councilors approve the extra $700,000 at their June 24 meeting, the cost increases are projected to total 15.4%, Filby Williams said. 

"A project of this sort, renewing 125-year-old buried marine infrastructure whose character cannot be fully known until you dig it up, typically, the recommendation is to put a contingency of 20 or 25%," he said. "So I'm very pleased that our project managers have brought it in at 15% contingency spending."

In total, it puts the project at about $8 million. Van Daele says the $700,000 is the only part directly funded by taxpayers since the rest came from grants and a bond from the tourism tax fund. 

The seawall reconstruction was just one of three projects taking place in and around the Minnesota Slip over the past year. The Irvin was also moved to Fraser Shipyards for repairs, and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency had a contamination cleanup project. 

There was some added cost efficiency to do all three projects at once, Filby Williams said. 

"But it also entailed a level of complexity and sequencing that was unusually challenging in the experience of everyone who worked on it," he acknowledged. 

The MPCA's project is complete, and the seawalls will be done by next week. The Irvin should be back in the Minnesota Slip and open for tours in time for the 2020 tourist season. 


Baihly Warfield

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