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Rushford Council special meeting focuses on well drilling

Fri, Jan 25th, 2008
Posted in Government

RUSHFORD - It is rare for the Rushford council to discuss matters unrelated to the August flood, and Tuesday's, January 22, special session was no exception.

BDM engineer John Stewart advised the council on pending water issues.

The flood contaminated City wells, and in the aftermath, water from well #4 remains unsafe for consumption. Engineers will try again at the end-of-February to decontaminate the well, but in the meantime, the City received bids to "abandon" well #4, drill a new well, plus, drill a test well no farther than 600-feet from the proposed new-well-site north of the north-side bridge, adjacent to the swimming pool.

The special council session was convened initially to award 2-drilling-contracts to low-bidder, Mineral Service Plus, contingent upon council approval of a draft agreement between the City and its-own director of Public Works, Jeff Copley, permitting the test well to be drilled on Copley's property, 807 Mill Street, [Highway 43], adjacent the proposed new-well-site.

Stewart explained that drilling a test well too-near to the new well site could be problematic when it came time to calculate pumping pressure of the new well. Noting that the well could have been just as easily drilled across the highway on City property. Stewart explained that such a test well would have to be later abandoned, meaning it would be sealed with concrete at a cost of between $3,000 to $5,000.

"Given the cost to abandon the test well - Mr. Copley wanted the well - it seemed like a good idea."

Council members launched a barrage of questions, mainly relating to a perceived of conflict-of-interest - a City employee receiving exclusive benefits from a City project - and the stark inconsistency of providing a private residential well now, when City policy after the flood is to compel residents to seal all public wells.

According to the draft agreement, Copley would own and be allowed to use the 500-foot-deep, 6-inch-diameter well in the future to install a residential geothermal heat-pump for personal use. Exact cost for the test well remained unclear in the $49,950 low-bid submitted by Mineral Service because their lump-sum-price combined costs for abandoning well #4 with drilling the test well.

Nancy Benson pretty much summed up the council's collective concern when she stated. "I'm not comfortable with it."

In the end, the council added several stipulations to the Copley-City agreement. Notably, Copley has 1-year from September-08 to install a geothermal system using the test well. After that time, Copley will be responsible for sealing the well, at no additional cost to the City. The City will justify the decision by explicitly stating in its resolution that normal "rent" to a property-owner for a test well would cost approximately $3000.

The Council voted and approved three related resolutions as amended: 1) to award the test well-drilling contract in the amount of $49,950 to Mineral Service; 2) to award a contract to Mineral Service in amount of $11,576 to disinfect well #4; and 3) to execute the Copley-City agreement for drilling the test well. Councilmember Robert Dahl voted against the Copley agreement.

Stewart, whose firm, BDM, developed plans for the proposed water treatment facility months before the flood, recommended approving extension of construction bids for the treatment plant - these from low-bidders Olympic Builders and Joseph Company - until 28-March. The council unanimously approved.

Finally, Stewart briefed the council on a proposal to PFA, the State Public Finance Authority, to grant an additional $2-million to the City for flood-related infrastructure projects. Just prior to the flood, the PDA authorized a $1.5-million, 20=year loan to the City for construction of a water treatment facility.

Flood Recovery

Minnesota Housing Finance Agency announced on 18-January that it would double Quick Start loan benefits for flood victims and extend the application deadline to mid-March. In an effort to expend all funds allocated for disaster relief, MHFA also increased to approximately $500,000 the amount of funding available to local units of government and non-profit organizations for recovery projects.

The council discussed and approved a draft resolution requesting MHFA funds to staff a disaster relief case-manager/ombudsman to work as a temporary City employee for 6-months.

Lutheran Social Services, represented by Cindy Johnson - accompanied by District 31A Representative Ken Tschumper who spoke on behalf of LSS - presented a draft MHFA grant proposal to the City for consideration. Seeking $246,000 in State funds to staff LSS recovery activities throughout the disaster area with case managers, financial counselors and a construction superintendent for 8-months. In addition, Tschumper strongly recommended that the City assign management responsibility for the ombudsman position to LSS, relinquishing City oversight or management role in both the proposed grant and ombudsman projects to that of a fiscal agent.

Panel members discussed liability issues, financial responsibility and Rushford priories.

Mayor Les Ladewig expressed concern that the City play a key collaborative role. This led to considerable discussion of the terms of reference for disaster recovery moving forward, particularly given the disproportionate number of residents and businesses affected by the Rush Creek flood when compared to Fillmore and the other 6-counties named in the August Federal Disaster Declaration.

Recommending that the council postpone any decision for-or-against the LSS proposal until further research into the nascent proposal could be undertaken, Ladewig thanked John for the "fantastic job" LSS has done in flood recovery. He concluded, "I don't understand why the City would be just a fiscal agent. We look out for the people in our community."

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