Nearly 20,000 feet or more than five miles of track have been laid on Itasca County's new railway to service Essar Steel Minnesota.
County commissioners heard an update on construction activity this week during a meeting of the Itasca County Regional Rail Authority July 13. Railroad engineer Dave McKenzie with SEH Engineering provided a progress report for activity through the month of June.
"Construction is going very well," said McKenzie. "They have been laying a lot of track."
According to McKenzie's report, both earthwork contracts on package one and two are complete. These included grading on the county's 6 miles of rail line and the 2.5 miles on Essar property.
With 30 percent of the track laid, McKenzie reported that both wye (or switches) have been built, as well as four turnouts and about half of the interchange yard has been completed. McKenzie said the contractor, Railworks of Lakeville, Minn., received six carloads of rail by rail on July 2.
One "big thing" of note, said McKenzie, "between June 30 and July 1, BNSF (Burlington North Sante Fe Railroad) switched in some rail cars and reported no problems or hold ups."
McKenzie expected Railworks to be laying track on Essar property starting this week.
He said the area is very busy with construction activity and people are to take extreme caution when in the vicinity.
In other business, the authority:
• Heard a update from Itasca County Auditor/Treasurer Jeff Walker reported $36,280,108 in total expenditures to date, leaving a balance of $29,619,892 from the $65 million in state funds provided for the project.
• Approved a reduction of retainage on payments to engineering consultant AMEC from 2.5 percent to 1 percent.
"They've essentially completed their work and we have not needed their services for some time now," said Itasca County Highway Engineer Dave Christy. "There is no doubt we owe them money. This was a $2 million contract."
• Heard an update from Bryan Adams on Nashwauk Public Utilities Commission projects. Adams said the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission is expected to make a decision on a route permit for the two substations and 230 kV transmission lines by July 29. He said designs for the electric distribution substations to service the crusher/concentrator and pellet/steel plant are being completed. NPUC has had conversations with Itasca County staff, Minnesota Power and Essar on possible options on ownership of the 230 kV transmission system components and substation components and how best to utilize state grant funds, according to Adams' report.
"We hope this will be determined in the next week or so," he said.
According to Adams, construction contracts have been issued to Hammerlund Construction for the pump house and to Utility Systems of America for the water/sewer line extension to the Essar site. Both contractors are in the process of mobilizing.