A hoped-for funding swap that would buy East Grand Forks officials time to get their infrastructure ducks in a row appears likely.

City Administrator David Murphy told City Council members on Tuesday, Aug. 3, that the Minnesota Department of Transportation could broker a deal between the city and Polk County that would point $860,000 worth of federal “subtarget” road funding that would otherwise go to the city in 2022 toward a county roadway project and, in return, point $750,000 that would otherwise have gone from the feds to the county in 2023 toward the city instead that year. There’s one potential snag, according to Murphy: whether the state is willing or able to bank the $110,000 difference between the city and county’s allocations. Earl Haugen, who heads the Metropolitan Planning Organization, a regional clearinghouse for infrastructure money and planning, said that type of maneuver is possible, Murphy told council members.

That contradicts what Murphy had put in a memo to council members earlier on Tuesday, in which he wrote that a MnDOT planning director believed a swap is “highly unlikely.” That changed, Murphy said, when county staff told Haugen they had a roadway project ready to receive a federal subsidy a year early.

City Council members agreed informally last week to ask MnDOT to help East Grand Forks, in effect, delay $860,000 worth of federal “subtarget” funding so city staff could commission a study necessary to put a $2.2 million plan to rebuild a chunk of 10th Street Northeast at the front of the line for that funding. The street runs near an east-end industrial park and is in poor condition.

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'Something we've never dealt with before'

East Grand Forks has a long-range transportation plan on file with the planning organization, and that plan outlines which projects in the area are eligible for the federal subsidy. A $1.6 million roundabout at the intersection of Bygland Road and Rhinehart Drive in the city’s south end is presently included in that plan, but council members and Mayor Steve Gander pumped the brakes on that idea. They ultimately asked city staff to ask the planning organization to amend the long-range transportation plan to include the industrial park road rebuild, which would make it eligible for the same funding as the roundabout.

“As we think about prioritizing something ahead of (the roundabout), that doesn’t mean it’s a bad project,” Gander said Tuesday. “It just means it may not be our number one need right at this time.”

But amending the plan isn’t a quick process, and the planning organization’s board agreed late last month that they didn’t have enough information about the industrial park road project to agree to amend the long-range plan. So, with fiscal and logistical deadlines quickly approaching, city leaders agreed to, in effect, try and push those deadlines back so they could commission the study they’d need to satisfy the planning organization board.

City staff tried to make a similar swap in May with the three other cities in their subtarget group: Bemidji, Thief River Falls, and Crookston. The federal money rotates between those four each year, which, under normal circumstances, means East Grand Forks would next be in line for it in 2026. Civic officials at all three cities weren’t interested in an exchange with East Grand Forks, though.

“This is something we’ve never dealt with before,” Murphy told the Herald when asked why the city didn’t approach the state or county for a funding swap after it was rejected by Bemidji, et al. “We’re not experts in this.”

Permits, road contract

In related news, council members:

  • Approved permits for Sacred Heart church and school to close part of Third Street Northwest for a block party on Aug. 26 and for the Red River Lions Club to hold a raffle on Nov. 18 at an Eastside VFW post.

  • Awarded a $34,000 contract to RJ Zavoral and Sons to repair a section of a frontage road along Hwy 220. Council member Marc DeMers, who works for the company, abstained and did not vote.