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Published September 18, 2013, 09:25 AM

City raises sewage fees, will research renovation options

The East Grand Forks City Council has decided to improve its sewage lagoons to solve the city’s wastewater crunch.

By: Robb Jeffries, Grand Forks Herald

The East Grand Forks City Council has decided to improve its sewage lagoons to solve the city’s wastewater crunch.

With the city’s current stabilization pond, or lagoon, system at 90 percent capacity, the council passed a resolution choosing one of two options that have been discussed at council work sessions: pursuing renovating the city’s existing lagoon system.

The system will require construction of additional lagoons. A presentation by city officials earlier this month estimated the 20-year cost of this project to be nearly $18.5 million, but City Engineer Greg Boppre said the cost could fluctuate depending on the amount of renovations that could be done on the existing system.

The option the council did not pick, building an underground sewage interconnect with Grand Forks, would have sent all of the city’s wastewater to North Dakota to be treated at Grand Forks’ wastewater treatment plant for a percentage-based fee. The 20-year cost of the interconnect project was estimated to be around $14 million.

Council member Mark Olstad, who voted against the approved lagoon system, said the interconnect would spare the city from dealing with regulatory groups like the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, who had set a September 2014 deadline for the council to pick a wastewater project.

The next step for the city is for engineers to research how much renovation can be done to the existing system, and using that information to design a new system that will comply with regulatory standards and meet the city’s needs.

An issue the city could face with the lagoon project is MPCA’s tightening standards of the tertiary treatment of phosphorus, but Boppre said any such changes would not delay the project.

“If the MPCA defines the tertiary treatments, it will not affect the design,” he said.

The motion to approve selecting the lagoon system option was approved 5-2, with Olstad and Council President Craig Buckalew voting against.

Fees up

City Council also approved a fee increase for increasing fixed meter sewage rates across the city.

According to Karl Lindquist, interim city administrator, Mayor Lynn Stauss has said the city needs to raise sewage fees to be eligible for state and federal grants for the lagoon system.

“In order to be eligible, our citizens need to be paying their fair share for wastewater, and according to some groups he’s talked to, ours aren’t,” he said.

Boppre said the approved increase would still be short of what some agencies he’s worked with are looking for. He said the rate needs to be “around $60 per person per month” to be eligible for certain grants.

“That’s not just an us rule, it’s an everywhere rule,” Boppre said.

Lindquist said he had mixed feelings about the fee increase. As a city official, he said raising fees will help the city qualify for government aid for the lagoon project. As a citizen, though, he said he would prefer to see a tax increase, as people can then claim that money paid on tax returns.

Council member Clarence Vetter agreed with Lindquist, and voted against the fee increase.

“We say we are not going to raise taxes, but we’ll raise fees? That’s just wrong,” he said. “If you need to raise money to provide a service, then by damn it, we should raise taxes.”