“Are we in compliance? We’re knocking it out of the park right now,” said Rick Whitney. Whitney serves as the front man for the Wastewater Treatment Plant through PeopleService, whom the city contracted with in September 2012 in effort to help mitigate problems with its aging plant.
The city has been out of Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) compliance since October 2016 and submitted a corrective action plan last December through WSB & Associates. Things at the plant are progressing well, as they attempt to get a handle on the situation, and both Whitney and Richard Parr, Senior Project Manager for WSB were on hand at the Wednesday, May 3 council meeting to provide a monthly summary.
Parr brought further good news to the city regarding proposed construction costs for the plant upgrades. Initially, the project was estimated at $500,000. Looking at an alternate to the plan, that included the removal of a proposed immersion heater in the plan, the new estimate is $295,000. “There’s big savings in that,” added Parr.
Funding for the project is still unknown. WSB had considered several sources including a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development, Minnesota Department of Commerce Port Authority, and a Point Source Implementation Grant. A Water and Waste Disposal Grant Program with USDA may also be in play. Funding from the Public Facilities Authority (PFA) is likely the best financial option for the city, but, “The money doesn’t exist right now,” noted Parr. “If we go down the path of Rural Development, there are more steps.” Even that funding is questionable, with USDA’s fiscal year ending April 30.
The city cannot meet the timeline laid out in the corrective action plan due to unsecured funding. Parr indicated he’d spoken with a USDA representative and they are aware a request for time extension is coming. A new realistic timeline, based on Rural Development funding, is being submitted. “We need to move forward so that if funding becomes available with either of these, we can be ready and jump on it,” said Parr. “It’s the big question mark right now.”
If USDA Rural Development is the route taken, bids for the project could be awarded in December. “We don’t have a choice,” noted Councilor Jim Schott. “We don’t have a lot of time here.”
Valley Design has been working cooperatively with the city on helping to remedy any effect the company may be having on the plant. Whitney is testing totes brought by the company prior to adding it to the system flow. “There were a few things I saw that I didn’t like, but they’re not an issue anymore. I want to be proactive on what we see coming through.”
The council also discussed the possibility of running a septic receiving station where septic pumpers can bring loads. If properly screened for materials that may gum up the system, Whitney says this is actually a benefit to the system. “It adds bugs and it adds food.”
A request from Whitney to purchase two additional pumps was brought forth and approved unanimously by the council. “You’re doing a good job up there,” noted Mayor Richard Kujath. “Keep it up.”
In other news, Police Chief Tom Mosher presented a monthly summary of activity for his department. While there was very little recent activity, two cold cases kept him busy. This includes some surprising twists leading to discovery of the subjects allegedly responsible for the June 6, 2016, burglary at the Bent Wrench restaurant and bar. Mosher indicated that several similar crimes had peaked his curiosity and investigation in the past, but a recent written confession by a St. Paul man currently serving time, connected several dots.
Chippewa County law enforcement, along with FBI for both Minnesota and Iowa, conducted a 2.5-hour interview with the man and, according to Mosher, the man has been linked to more than 20 burglaries in a 370-mile radius, including the Bent Wrench. Mosher submitted a report to County Attorney Brett Corson this week. If he is found guilty of the crimes, it’s doubtful that any restitution will be recouped. “At least we know it wasn’t someone local,” noted Mosher.
Resident Charles Seha requested city approval for a property fence, which was approved. Seha was unhappy with the regulation that fences must be one foot off the property line and noted some frustration with getting a survey. “It’s impossible to get a survey done in this town.” Seha eventually went to the county surveyor and searched old records until he found the location of one pin, then used a metal detector to find the others.
Seha also presented the city with an estimate by Norby Tree Service for the pruning of a tree in the boulevard and requested permission to plant apple trees in the boulevard. “Small towns should have tree-lined streets,” said Seha, a landscape designer. “I would like to do some sustainable things. It’s the perfect street tree.” Councilor Schott indicated the city can’t stop a resident from putting them in, but that property owners are responsible for keeping the trees maintained and the area cleaned. If the city needs to step in for maintenance, the cost is $125 per hour with a minimum time of one hour.
Resident Tyler Heibel also came before the council to seek clarity on allowances for use if he purchases the building in the 100 block of Main Street, which currently also houses the post office. Heibel is currently living the lower level of the commercially-zoned building, but if he purchases it, ordinances do not allow ground floor residences and he cannot be grandfathered in. “We have to follow the ordinance,” noted Schott.
If Heibel wants to proceed, he would need to get a survey of the property and present a request before the zoning board to have the building rezoned as R2. This is not guaranteed to be approved. If it is, however, the property cannot be flipped back to commercial if Heibel wants a business on the ground floor and an apartment on the second floor.
The next regularly schedule council meeting is Wednesday, June 7, at 7:30 p.m., at city hall. The public is encouraged to attend.