WILLMAR -- The Kandiyohi County Highway Department wanted to start work this summer on the reconstruction of a busy rural highway on the east side of Eagle Lake.
But there's been a snag. The necessary clearance that will allow part of County State-Aid Highway 9 to be rerouted through a wildlife area hasn't yet arrived from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Until the clearance is received, the county can't even seek road construction bids, let alone start construction. And with mid-July already here, officials are starting to worry about the timetable.
"We're really getting concerned about getting into August," said Gary Danielson, county engineer. "We're at risk of not being able to finish the grading until next year."
Danielson outlined the problem Tuesday for the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners.
The project, estimated at more than $3 million, is a major one. It will move part of Highway 9 away from the densely populated east shore of Eagle Lake and reroute it through farm fields farther east. The entire road, from just north of Willmar to a short distance south of Minnesota Highway 23, also will be upgraded.
The need for a clearance from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is an unusual issue that hasn't been encountered before, Danielson said.
"This is the first time we've run into this situation, ever," he said.
The land in question is at 37th Street Northeast and is on both sides of the proposed road. Although it is owned by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, it was purchased with federal money through the Fish and Wildlife Service, hence requires the agency's permission for an easement.
Danielson said the process included an archeological survey and environmental impact reports. By mid-May, "we had everything together and all the questions answered," he said.
But with no clearance yet, the county hasn't even been able to seek bids for the project, he said. "We don't dare put the bids out. We can't bid it until we have the date."
He and his staff have been especially concerned about the timeline for a section of road that will involve adding fill to an area of poor-quality soil. The work will need to be done slowly, over the course of up to three months, to avoid collapsing the soil, Danielson said. The fill also will need a few more months to settle before this section of the project can be completed.
"We just have to have an answer so we know how to plan," he said.
He said his office is doing what it can to expedite the clearance.
"It's jobs. It's an improvement," Danielson said. "Postponing it a year is only going to cost more."
Other projects on the county's 2012 road improvement list are faring considerably better. Many have already been completed -- for instance, County State-Aid Highway 8 south of Lake Lillian, County Highway 9 from north of Willmar to New London, two sections of Highway 1 north of Norway Lake, and Highway 32 along the south side of Nest Lake.
Grading on County Highway 5 south of Roseland was delayed last month because of heavy rains but is now under way and is progressing well, Danielson told the county commissioners.
Some overlay work, including County Road 148 between New London and Sibley State Park, also remains to be done, he said.