The proposed timeline for Fountain’s wastewater treatment plant project has hit another roadblock. After the plant was designated out of compliance by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) compliance since October 2016, a corrective action plan was submitted and approved. The city was unable to meet the timeline laid out by the plan due to unsecured funding options. Now, it appears state-requested modifications to the plan will put the project farther back.
At the July 5 meeting, Richard Parr, Senior Project Manager for WSB & Associates, indicated the city may be ready to bid out the project in October, with a late season construction start. That timeline is being hampered by state requests to modify the city’s application. Parr detailed these changes at the Wednesday, August 2 council meeting.
MPCA wants the city to move forward with plans and specs and if an agreement is reached, MPCA wants to replace the standing stipulation agreement with a new permit. The review process is lengthy though, including drafting of the permit, 30 days for review and comment, and a minimum of 60 days for public notice. “We may bid out late this year, at the earliest,” noted Parr. “Our previous plan is probably out the window.”
Parr did state that pushing the timeline back may allow the city to negotiate a longer schedule to get the project completed. “We’re not guaranteed the money this year,” added Parr. He intends to clarify the likelihood that the city could attain Public Facilities Authority (PFA) funding. “If not this year, are we higher up for next year?” Parr still maintains that funding through PFA is a better mechanism for the city than a USDA Rural Development loan.
“What they’re asking us to do is to take the old application that was submitted and mark it as amended. The main thing is they want us to say construction is being proposed,” said Parr. This also raises the application fee another $1,240 on top of the $1,240 already submitted.
The state is also pushing for heat exchangers in the project. “The bottom line is they want to bring the temperature of the water up,” said Parr. This option may have some hidden problems of its own, however. In addition to the requests, the state wants to designate the City of Fountain as Class A wastewater, rather than Class B. This pushes the requirements and the ability to operate it to a substantially greater level.
The exchangers, class designation, and a permit all carry additional possibilities for future city issues, according to Rick Whitney, of PeopleService, who the city contracted with in 2012 to assist in mitigating problems. “Once a permit becomes a permit, it stays a permit until the end of time. The cost between a Class B operator and a Class A operator is huge. Use caution on what gets put in the permit. Use caution on how you approach timelines,” warned Whitney.
“Obviously people signed off on a plant that didn’t perform as it was designed to function. Whatever changes are going to be made, make sure they’re beneficial to the city. Be aware of hidden costs,” continued Whitney.
Whitney also made a point of detailing the heater option, being clearly in favor of utilizing bio-augmentation instead, as the city currently does. “Put it in the permit. If I can get a nine for nitrates or I can get a four with bio-augmentation, I’d rather not squeak by with the system and would rather put lower nitrates back in that stream or creek. I don’t want my hands bound. There’s science behind it,” he said.
According to Parr, there is very limited use of heat exchangers in systems compounded by cold weather treatment. On the flip side, bio-augmentation is being successfully used across the country.
“Keep fighting the battle and do what we can to make it feasible for the city,” added Whitney, who also stated his irritation by being excluded by the state in a conference call with Parr and City Clerk Rhonda Flattum. “I felt like they were trying to speed it along. I don’t want to see you get saddled with something and I’m leary of the demands being attached to the money. I’m used to the state being an overseer, not a dictator.” Whitney will continue to review the original application and application changes for the city.
In other news, Clerk Flattum indicated that letters regarding property ordinance compliance were sent to every property owner in the city. Despite the heading stating such, several residents contacted the city or its councilors seeking clarification as to why they were out of compliance. Flattum reiterated to the council that all property owners received the letter. She and Public Works’ John Hanson will be reviewing properties on an individual basis on or after August 14. Those who are out of compliance will be discussed with the council at the September 6 meeting.
The city has opted not to change its licensing for pets. The council had considered a lifetime license in effort to cut down on clerical work related to it, but it was determined that keeping it as an annual license may be beneficial to pet owners. “It reminds people to make sure shots are up to date,” stated Flattum. “We have to look at why we’re doing it. Is it to make money? Or is it to protect our residents?” She indicated that 97 licenses were given out in the last license year, which runs from June 1, 2017 to May 31, 2018.
“At one time, we were overrun with dogs. It did take care of that,” added Mayor Richard Kujath. Currently, the city ordinance states that properties may have up to three pets (including indoor cats or dogs). Both dogs and cats must be licensed. Outdoors, pets must be penned or leashed at all times.
The city will have final meetings to discuss the future of policing. As of the August 2 meeting, the city formally accepted the resignation of longtime Fountain Police Chief Tom Mosher. For several months, the city has worked to prepare for Mosher’s retirement, considering maintaining its own force contracting with the Fillmore County Sheriff’s Department, or contracting with another municipal department for contracted services.
The city is currently looking at just two options; contract with the county or contract with Preston Police Department. The county has offered a $24,000 annual contract providing two hours of patrolling per day. At an informal meeting, the Preston Department indicated it could provide 2-3 hours per day at at comparable cost. Fountain wants to meet again with the parties to firm up details for comparison and has scheduled to meet with Sheriff Tom Kaase, at 6:30 p.m., and Preston Police Chief Matthew Schultz, 7 p.m., on Monday, August 14.
The next regularly scheduled council meeting is Wednesday, September 6, at 7:30 p.m., at city hall. The public is encouraged to attend.