Berglee subbed on to help with soccer field

Alastair Baker
News Editor
Thursday, September 5, 2019

House Rep. Seth Berglee (R) has been called upon to help Red Lodge Youth Soccer (RLYS) understand possible options to build two soccer fields at Coal Miners Park after a letter from Bill Snoddy, Project manager with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) -Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) Program, halted DEQ’s portion of the project because contracting bids were twice their engineering estimate.

The news has shocked members of the RLYS board who feel blindsided by the decision.  

“DEQ put out bids and asked to meet with us in August and we thought it was to discuss start date, but the project manager came down from Helena and reported the project would not proceed because they didn’t have the funds for their cap, which may have been over-designed?” said RLYS Vice President and Chairman of the Fields Committee, Beth Graham

The City of Red Lodge is also part of the equation in helping RLYS make this project a reality and the reason behind Mayor Bill Larson contacting Berglee.

Berglee met with RLYS representatives, Larson, the Community Development Director James Caniglia and Parks Board member Kevin Bonk last week to hear about the history of the project and their concerns. Berglee said he would be in touch with DEQ.

“My question (to DEQ) would be you’ve spent $100,000 to $200,000 on engineering. Why are you spending money on a project that you didn’t know was going to go through or had aspects of that were able to tank the entire project?” said Berglee. “It wouldn’t have been very hard to get a preliminary bid to get a cost estimate (and) put that out. That would have been very cheap. Why are you hiring an engineering company and paying them to do a project that you apparently didn’t have any intention of completing?” 

Particularly frustrating for Graham is the lack of communication coming from DEQ and the seeming reluctance to come back to the table with another solution especially after all the commitment from the City and volunteers and the public who have donated over $55,000 toward the RLYS portion of the project which includes the water and electric supply, irrigation system and recreational seeding. “The players, their families, and this community worked so hard to help raise funds, as well as secure short-term loans for the portion not yet fundraised”.

“The letter says it is cost prohibitive. I get it but let’s come back and reengage and make it cheaper. We are left high and dry. Were the DEQ design and soil specifications too stringent?  Does the cap have to be 18 inches thick?  Can it be bid next year with more than a 2 week window so that local contractors might be available to bid on the project?  Can the footprint of the cap be reduced, or the City gets only one field? We don’t have any other city property options at this point, and will have to look for areas outside of town if this fails” said Graham.

Pioneer Engineering has been the design engineering firm for the DEQ for more than a year and estimated the project would cost $555,000 to place an 18-inch soil cap over the existing coal waste area to allow for the soccer fields to be built.

The DEQ-AML letter states eight contractors attended the pre-bid walk through and three bid on the project but when the bids were returned they were “almost double the engineer’s estimate of $555,000” with Weave at $1.1 million, First Mark at $1.2 million and Duraroot at $1.3 million.

“These prices do not include engineering activities that will be required during construction to support the reconfigurations. It is estimated that work would add $200,000 to the overall cost of the project,” writes Snoddy. “The AML Program has reviewed the bids and we will not be awarding the work due to the dollar amount of the bids received.”

“AML does not have sufficient funding available for the project. We have spoken with our federal oversight agency, the Department of Interior’s Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation, and Enforcement about the project and because the cap remains generally protective, coupled with low priority of the problem they have requested this project not (to) proceed until all higher priority coal problems have been resolved,” he writes. 

“That’s interesting”, says Beth Graham, “as they have said they would be securing Federal Coal Trust funds for this project for the past three years, but never discussed once their budget.  If there was a budget on their end, then why did they continue to design a soil cap, go out to bid, etc. without an estimate and commitment to the funds?  They asked the City to sign a legal agreement as late as this July for this project, and then indicate a 'No Go' less than one month later. It all seems unprofessional to RLYS”.

Caniglia also expressed frustration.

“We’ve (collectively, City, RLYS and volunteers) spent thousands of hours over the last 3 years (on this project), and then this reaction; the bids were too high; and walk away,” he said.

It is hoped that Berglee can find the answers for the City and RLYS. 

Beth Graham is available at 672-5360 for questions regarding fundraising efforts to date and plans moving forward. 






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