The Cloquet City Council on Tuesday, April 20, approved a bid of approximately $3 million to begin construction on the first phase of a joint project with Carlton County to improve utility infrastructure along 14th Street.

Crews will break ground on the project this spring, with the first phase including the reconstruction of the pavement, storm sewer and pedestrian facilities from Cloquet Avenue to Prospect Avenue. The second phase, set to begin in 2022, will include areas from Prospect Avenue to Tall Pine Lane.

“In general, the existing utility infrastructure in this area is considered in very poor to failed condition,” a 2020 request for council action read. “Some of the issues documented in recent years include sewer backups and watermain breaks.”

The project has been in the works since October 2019 and will involve Carlton County and city funds, with the county designated as the lead agency in the process.

The first phase will cost approximately $3.1 million, of which the city will pay about $898,000. According to the project proposal, funds for the project come largely from sales tax and assessments to residents, with an estimated $1 million set aside in the 2021 budget.

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When first planning the project, it was estimated that total assessment cost to residents would be about $656,184, or 27% of total project costs, leading to some concerns.

In a 2020 email to the council, Bob Atkins, owner of Atkins Northland Funeral Home, said he was being given an estimated assessment of $22,500, which he considered unreasonable because residents were given an estimate of about $7,100.

Other businesses were facing similar estimates, with the highest being $36,072.

However, city staff now believes that final assessments will be lower or equal to original estimates due to the low bids received for the first phase.

According to staff, the $3 million bid from St. Cloud contractor RL Larson Excavating Inc. puts the city's costs for the first phase at about 16% less than the original engineering estimate.

City Engineer John Anderson said there were a total of six bids received for the first phase, all of which were relatively low. RL Larson Excavating Inc. was the lowest bidder.

The county also approved the bid for the first phase April 13, and will begin the bidding process for the second phase later this year.