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Deal puts Zipper to work

by Alan Lewis Gerstenecker
| July 9, 2013 12:44 PM

The Asphalt Zipper, the city-owned implement that chews up asphalt roads and leaves it behind, essentially as recycled material to be used again, has found work on a Noble Excavating job site.

An agreement with the Libby-based construction and excavation company that recently won city business to make repairs to the city’s water-distribution system, is using the Asphalt Zipper on the Pipe Creek Road construction project.

“It’s an agreement we have with Noble,” Mayor Doug Roll said. Roll said Noble Excavating has helped the city eliminate an asphalt and rock pile on city property and the agreement allows for Noble Excavating to use the Zipper. Roll acknowledged critics were taking aim at him over the agreement, which is legal.

“There is no law that prohibits the city from negotiating an agreement that benefits both (parties),” Roll said. “We’re not giving it to them. The city got something in return.”

City Administrator Jim Hammons produced a signed agreement that calls for a $12,900 rental fee for one month beginning  June 3. The Zipper still was on the Pipe Creek job site, about 3.5 miles past the Red Dog Saloon on Friday, July 5.

Messages left for Noble Excavating President Chris Noble at his office for comment were not returned.

City Councilwoman Barb Desch, who chairs the Streets and Sidewalks Committee that agreed to purchase the Zipper for $136,900 about a year ago, said the city has plans this summer for the implement.

“It’s like any new piece of equipment,” Desch said. “There are bugs that need to be worked out. No, we weren’t as happy as we could have been with its use on Main Street, but we are looking at some other binders,” she said referring to the chemical added to the mulched substance that is essentially the glue. “We’re looking at some (street) projects for the Zipper. We want to coordinate them with the water repairs.”

The city has used the device sparingly, on South Main Street. Also, the agreement is for services rendered.

City Street Supervisor Corky Pape said the Zipper was not as effective as it could have been because the city streets lack the crushed rock subsurface, a fact echoed by Roll.

“A lot of our streets are just laid right over the clay,” Roll said.

Pape said while that’s true, it’s more than that.

“It’s an asphalt-mulching machine. Most of our streets are chip-and-seal. I’m not as convinced by sales people as others are,” Pape said.

Mike Meloy, an attorney based in Helena, said as long as the city is being compensated, he sees nothing wrong with the agreement.

“I can’t see anything that prohibits this, and while it may not look good for a firm doing business with the city to be in this agreement, there’s nothing illegal about it,” Meloy said.

City Attorney Jim Reintsma concurred with Meloy, citing Montana Code Annotated 90-5-102 B that allows cities to lease property, such as heavy equipment, as long as they require fair compensation.