The Lanesboro City Council held a public hearing on April 30 to discuss the proposed wastewater treatment plant project. All council members were present as well as all three of the Lanesboro Public Utilities Commission members. City Engineer Brian Malm and Project Engineer Jake Pichelman from Bolton and Menk opened the meeting with a slideshow presentation covering the project needs, design and costs, site selection and aesthetics, user rates and funding options, and schedule. The current wastewater treatment plant was built in 1938 making it the oldest in Minnesota. The life expectancy of the equipment before needing to be repaired or replaced is approximately zero to five years, meaning that it could break down any day. Pichelman noted that it would not be cost effective to move forward with repairs to equipment that will not meet the future needs of the City of Lanesboro.
The preliminary engineering work began in the fall of 2014 and in March 2018, the facility plan was submitted to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency or MPCA. The first public hearing for the proposed project took place on June 19, 2018, and the MPCA approved the plans about a month after that. Discussions about the project’s design began in October of that same year. Certification of the project by the MPCA should occur in June, 2019 with project bidding going out as early as this fall based on funding availability. Construction could potentially begin in the spring of 2020. Some of the options for funding of the project include different grants and loans. Eligibility for grants is dependent on the timing of the project, which is why the project is moving forward within this time range.
The wastewater treatment plant design was reviewed by Pichelman, and included items such as the addition of a grinding mechanism to deal with wipes that are marketed as being flushable, biological treatment, which produces low odors, UV disinfection, and a new control building. Future accommodations for nutrient removal using nitrogen and phosphorus are also being considered as it will be required at some point. It is estimated that the total costs for the project will fall into the $6.5 to $7.75 million range.
Four different sites were considered for the wastewater treatment plant. Each of the potential sites were evaluated based on selection criteria that included adequate space, land cost, proximity to the existing plant, the option to reuse the existing outfall, floodplain issues, and seclusion from the general public. The ballfield, football field, and Highway 16 sites did not meet enough of the criteria and were not considered feasible or cost effective. The preferred site, called the Sales Commission site, would be placed just off of Highway 250 and located 300 feet north and just across the bike trail from where the current wastewater treatment plant sits. It was noted that the new plant will produce less odors than the existing one does. Diagrams showing the view of the proposed site from different angles, including several different screening choices using vegetation were viewed. A variety of options for the look of the buildings at the plant were also viewed, ranging from basic brick to more intricate block styles that would match other historic buildings in town.
The user rates would increase from $39.05 to approximately $60 a month after the new wastewater treatment plant is built, but that could vary depending on grant eligibility.
The meeting was opened for questions from the public. One resident asked whether the fee of $60 a month had been officially set and was assured by Malm that it had not. When the time comes, a discussion about the fees will be listed on the city council agenda for one of their regular meetings.
Another resident, William Tuohy, raised concerns that the public hearing and other city meetings are not publicized well enough. He pointed out that he does not own a computer so relies on newspapers and mailings to learn about events. He wanted to know why letters were not sent out to Lanesboro citizens informing them of the hearing. City Administrator Michele Peterson assured him that all notices for meetings are posted on the bulletin board in the city offices as legally required, and the city also publishes notices in the city’s official newspaper, the Bluff Country Reader, and on the city’s website. The regular city council meetings are set for the first Monday of every month at 5:30 p.m. and the agenda is posted a week in advance on the city website as well as on the bulletin board in the city offices. Peterson also noted later that for this particular public hearing, emails were sent out to all utility accounts that had an email address associated with them.
Another resident asked whether there was a difference in cost if the city were to go with one of the other potential sites. She was also concerned about the plant being moved from a 500 year floodplain to a 100 year and asked if Bolton and Menk would cover costs if there was any damage from flooding to the new plant. Malm pointed out that if the city built on one of the other sites, costs would be much higher due to having to pump the wastewater further distances. He also assured her that if the engineering firm made a mistake and placed the site even a foot below the 100 year floodplain, they would be liable for damages due to flooding.
“I appreciate the fact that the council is taking into consideration cost issues,” Lanesboro resident Erik Wrede said. He asked if a risk assessment for building the plant in a 100 year floodplain had been done. “When you’re looking at moving a site down lower than where it currently is, common sense says that’s more risk,” he noted. Lanesboro Public Utilities Commissioner Don Bell pointed out that the current plant is at the same elevation as the new one would be. Wrede asked whether the plant would be insured against flooding and was assured that Peterson would be speaking with the city’s insurance company before construction could begin. The cost of insurance will not be a significant consideration to the utility bills.
Amy McCall asked if the city would be looking into any other potential sites besides the four already mentioned. “No where in your photographs does it show housing or residential areas,” she said, pointing out that the nearest home was only 30 yards from the proposed site. She was also concerned about the fact that the site sits next to a road coming into Lanesboro. “What is going to happen to the entrance of this amazing, beautiful town that we are all now a part of?” she asked. McCall had spent some time passing out flyers to businesses in town informing them of the public hearing and was surprised to learn that only three business owners knew of the meeting. The homeowners who live near the proposed site were not aware of the public hearing either. “I think it’s not cool that the people who live right there did not know,” she said. She questioned the purpose of the public hearing as the site had already been decided on by the council. “You guys have made your minds up and this is what’s going to happen,” she said.
Malm noted that building on the site will require a variance for a setback, which the city council will have to approve at a later date. Council member Tom Smith asked whether it was possible to move the plant further away from the residence, but due to where the floodplain sits, that is not an option.
Wrede pointed out that hundreds of people tubing come down the Root River and get out at the bridge right next to the proposed plant site before walking into town and was concerned that being greeted by the sight of a wastewater treatment plant would portray the city in a negative light. “People know what it is and that will affect their perception of the town,” he said. “That’s why these things are typically hidden.” He asked that the members of the city council take some time to visit the site and think about the beauty of it that will be lost by building there. Mayor Resseman assured him that the council members had been to the site. “The assumption that we have not been down there and don’t appreciate it is not valid at all,” he said.
Bell noted that there had been a discussion about rebuilding on the current site, but that would involve bringing in a temporary plant for about 18 months, which would not be aesthetically pleasing and would significantly increase costs. The majority of those present for the hearing expressed support for that option, but Pichelman did not feel that it would be feasible for the city. Another resident pointed out that no one was arguing against a new wastewater treatment plant, but most people had a problem with the location. Someone else asked if the proposed plan and site were a done deal. “That is the spot that we are right now moving forward with, yes,” Mayor Resseman answered.
Another public hearing may be held at a later date to discuss the design details.