By Starrla Cray
WINSTED, MN Start now or wait?
Winsted City Council members asked themselves this question at Tuesday’s work session, in regards to the timing of major mandated improvements to the city’s wastewater treatment facility.
“We’re not going to win, no matter which way we go,” Mayor Steve Stotko commented.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) granted Winsted a permit for the project in April, but a month later the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy appealed the decision, causing a delay in the process.
“At this point, we have no idea when the appeal will be completed,” city engineer Jake Saulsbury of Bolton & Menk noted in a memo. He explained that oral arguments will likely be scheduled in fall or winter, with a decision sometime in the first half of 2017.
The council was presented with three potential options.
Option 1 Do nothing until the appeal process is complete
• Pros By waiting to see what happens with the appeal, the city will be able to make any required changes to the project before beginning construction, and will have the assurance that the project meets all regulations.
• Cons There have been recent mechanical failures at the wastewater plant that need to be addressed. If there are further maintenance issues, the city may have difficulty meeting discharge permit limits. Also, the longer the project waits, the more construction costs increase.
Option 2 Proceed with construction as planned
• Pros For this option, Winsted would proceed with construction by the low bidder, Di-Mar Construction, on all improvements. This would alleviate the various maintenance issues at the facility, and address aging equipment. It would also take care of pond decommissioning that needs to be completed soon.
• Cons If the MPCA loses the appeal and the city’s permit ends up being modified, parts of the project may not be usable (such as a new discharge location that includes a new lift station and forcemain).
Option 3 Proceed with a modified project
• Pros By modifying the project plans, the city could deal with maintenance items and pond decommissioning in a timely manner. This work wouldn’t include any construction for the new discharge location, so it wouldn’t be impacted by the appeal process.
• Cons When the appeal process is complete, and if Winsted is successful in obtaining a permit for the rest of the project, the city would need to move forward with another project, and potentially another contractor. Saulsbury noted that smaller projects are less appealing to contractors.
Discussion and next steps
Council Member Patty Fitzgerald said option 3 seems worth investigating, to see if the city could start the project now, and hopefully keep moving forward when the appeal process is complete.
“It doesn’t feel like a big risk to lean into it,” she said.
Council Member George Schulenberg added that “the best scenario is we start the project, get partway though, and then they come through with a ‘yes, let’s go.’”
Council Member Bonnie Quast asked why the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy is appealing the project, and Saulsbury answered that the group’s overarching goal is for phosphorus regulations to be more stringent than they are at present. The fact that Winsted’s project is the one being delayed is simply due to timing, and it could have been any city with this project.
Stotko asked what it would cost for the city to do the project with a phosphorus limit of zero, and Saulsbury answered that the cost would triple.
Council members directed Saulsbury to create a plan based on “option 3” that breaks the project into pieces, so it can be reviewed at a future work session.