Dyersville City Council members said they have already started receiving comments from the public both for and against a proposed bridge that would span the North Fork of the Maquoketa River and connect 12th and 13th Avenues after it learned of potential cost estimates at its last meeting.

While the council has stated it isn’t ready to spend any large sums of money on the project until the public gets a better understanding of what the true cost could be, it did unanimously agree to enter into another contract with HDR, the same firm that brought the council preliminary designs in late December 2020, to help identify and apply for several critical grants while also assisting to help the public get a clearer picture of what the completed project will look like.

The $34,096 HDR service agreement includes providing a review of a draft for a 2021 BUILD grant application prepared by an independent party, providing a screening of Iowa grant program opportunities and two state grant program application and coordination efforts, 3D renderings of the proposed project and public meeting assistance.

City Administrator Mick Michel also noted to the council that HDR is not the only entity working toward securing grants at this time and ideally, city staff would like to identify somewhere in the range of $3-4 million in grants to help assist with the project costs.

Mayor Jim Heavens said he’s received several comments from citizens, more than he can remember getting for any other recent issues, and agreed with Councilman Mike English’s previous suggestion that it would be much easier to host a public comment session in-person whenever that is possible.

Heavens asked if something could tentatively be scheduled around March or April with the caveat that the public understands it could be canceled or delayed because of COVID-19, but Michel said the information he has been receiving from state and other health officials is indicating that in-person gatherings are not likely to occur until the second or third quarter of this year.

While the exact timing of a potential public hearing is in flux, the council does want more specifics soon.

English asked Michel what the impact of the project would be on the tax bills of each citizen if the project went forward with no grants, noting that Dyersville has already been unsuccessful in securing a BUILD grant when it applied previously for this same project. Michel said his primary focus since the last meeting was securing the service agreement with HDR over the holiday season and that he didn’t want to hazard a guess at this point, but he will bring more specifics to the council at the next meeting.

Councilman Jim Gibbs echoed the importance of the no-grant scenario laid out by English, saying the public needs to be aware that could be a reality.

“I think it’s a need-to-know just for the fact that it’s the most aggressive means of doing it, but again it’s information that the taxpayers need,” Gibbs said.

If no outside funding became available, the taxpayers could be on the hook for a bridge project somewhere in the $8 million range, which would include the roughly $800,000 still needed for additional engineering and the high-end estimate of $6.9 for bridge construction.

But for now, the council was unanimous in its support of spending $34,000 to help identify and secure potential grants and other sources of funding.

“I think this is the logical next step to make,” Councilman Tom Westhoff said. “A grant, or potentially grants, would be critical to helping this project come to fruition. But to me, this is the best move tonight — we need to keep moving forward and keep researching and applying for grants so hopefully, we can greenlight this project down the road.”