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  • Writer's pictureCharlene Sims, Journal staff

Engineer to review Hell's Bend bridge project in attempt to lower cost

The year of construction is stamped into the concrete abutment on the east end of the existing Hell's Bend bridge. Federal and state agencies are pushing to replace the bridge because the failure of any support could likely cause the entire structure to collapse. (Roger Sims/Linn County Journal)

By Charlene Sims,

MOUND CITY – Linn County Public Works Director Shaun West updated the Linn County Commissioners on the Hell’s Bend Bridge project on Tuesday, Jan. 16.

West informed the commissioners that he had spoken with the engineer by phone and that the contractors did not think that a design change would make a large difference in the total bid of the project.

West said that the engineer did learn that the rising price of steel, the short construction time to complete the build, the railroad’s flagging cost, and the way it was added to the bid specs may have contributed to the high bid or the lack of bidders.

The engineer is reaching out to the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) seeing if they can open up the length of construction time, cap the flagging costs and pay it outright and then add it to the construction costs. That’s just as a different way of bidding it to lessen the liability to the construction company bidding the project.

West told the commissioners that the engineer did plan, once he had all of that information, to come speak to the commission directly. After that meeting, he will make direct contact with KDOT and the county would start the process of reletting the project.

He said that since BG Engineering had only been involved a couple of years on the project. So as far as other options that may have been looked at on the project or discussed, the engineer was not familiar with discussing an at-grade crossing, but he was more than willing to look at it with the designs and surveys and it would cost approximately $500 to complete that.

It would be a tabletop only and would only be the first blush of what the cost would be, West said.  The commissioners approved the $500 cost to have the engineer look at it this way.

In other business, the commissioners:

• Approved step increases for three department heads. West will receive a one step increase, Fire Chief Randy Hegwald will receive a four step increase, and Information Technology (IT) Director Chris Martin will receive a two step increase.

• Approved a contract with a new on-call engineering firm, Kaw Valley out of Lenexa at West’s suggestion. His recommendation was based on services provided. To have surveyors or design engineers on board is a benefit.   

• Learned that the old district court project should be done the first couple of weeks of February. Public works and maintenance will help with the moving.

• Approved West going out for bid for countywide heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) servicing.

• Approved and signed the High Risk Rural Roads agreement for 1095 Road from 1650 Road to Kansas Highway 152. The county’s share of this $470,000 grant will be $104,000 and the engineering is included in that amount.       

• Approved disbanding the fire board.

• Approved a resolution for duties of the county surveyor including compliance with zoning regulations.

• Added West and Hegwald to the Southeast Kansas Regional Planning Commission (SEKRPC) general membership list to replace Jackie Messer and Doug Barlet, who were no longer county employees. Economic Development Director Jessica Hightower said that the members on that list get invited once a year to the annual meeting. They don’t really have a lot of things that they are required to do.

Jessica Hightower told the commissioners that the membership fee was $3,383 for the county belonging to SEKRPC. She explained that the cost was based on a base fee of $2,400 and then 15 cents per capita based on the 2020 census. The money comes out of the economic development budget and is budgeted for every year.

She told the commissioners that SEKRPC was asking the county to update their general membership list. She reported that she is on the executive board, Planning and Zoning Administrator Darin Wilson is on Linn County’s membership list, County Clerk David Lamb is listed as Hightower’s alternate. 

Hightower explained that SEKRPC wrote and administered grants for the county and when the county was a member, the cities in the county could be members for $50 which gives them access to all the services of SEKRPC.    

• Learned from Jessica Hightower that she completed the FY 2026 High Risk Rural Road grant and turned it in last week and that the sheriff’s department and mapping department were both very helpful in assisting her.

• Learned from Martin who was working on why the old jail was receiving a $499 bill every month from Evergy that no air conditioning or heating was running but there were three blower fans running. The water has been shut off so there really wasn’t any utility usage over there. There is a line that ran from the generator at the jail to over to the old courthouse into the room that used to be the server room but there are no servers and just a few switches. 

Martin reported that he had a call into Evergy to answer more questions about all the line items on the bill and they had not gotten back with him on that yet. He said in talking with them up front, he believes the high cost is that the county is charged for a minimum commercial meter fee for three phase electric. The county is on their one medium fee rate, but it could probably save about $100 if they moved the billing down to low usage. 

However the county will be locked in for a year at that lower usage rate should the building be used and that the bills would go up substantially. Also, there is a light on a pole that the county is paying $25 a month for, but Martin could not find the light

So Evergy is having someone check on that. Martin will return when he gets more information from Evergy and the commissioners will make a decision on what direction to go.    

• Learned from Martin that the new notification system could be used for polling on issues like the solar farm but he has not figured out how to get the data, cellphone numbers, for landowners in the county. He pointed out that the voter registration list could be used for phone numbers but not everyone was registered to vote. If the data could be found for calling all landowners, there was a way that it could be set up to only receive one vote from each person.                                                                                        

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