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Cokato council seeks attorney aid regarding wastewater concerns
Feb. 20, 2017

By Jennifer Von Ohlen
Staff Writer

COKATO, MN – Environmental attorney Daniel Marx, of Flaherty- & Hood, PA, spoke with the Cokato City Council at its meeting last Monday to discuss options regarding its ongoing wastewater treatment facility (WWTF) dilemma.

Last December, the council was informed by Bolton & Menk that the city’s phosphorus levels exceeded river eutrophication standards (RES), and, therefore, action needed to take place.

The city was recommended two options: to regionalize with Howard Lake and join the Annandale-Maple Lake WWTF, or to build an extended aeration activated sludge WWTF with the addition of tertiary filters.

The latter option is estimated to cost $16.4 million.

Cokato city staff met with the Annandale/Maple Lake/Howard Lake Wastewater Commission (AMHWC) Jan. 30 to discuss details concerning costs and what is involved with a regional connection.

Regionalizing was found to cost approximately $13 million plus a usage fee of $7 per 1,000 gallons of flow. Because of Cokato’s high inflow and infiltration, this option did not appear to be presently viable.

During the council meeting, Marx explained the purpose of RES – to protect against harmful algae growth.

He also described some of the illegal implementations that have been occasionally found within the RES system, including flawed analysis and data collection, the use of old data to calculate more restrictive limits than necessary, and unadopted/illegal rulemaking. Marx did not say whether any of these appeared to have occurred with Cokato’s situation.

Looking ahead, Marx said the council could comply with the terms and submit a facility plan, or it could request a deadline extension (in which case, the council would miss the March 3 financing application deadline).

Marx recommended the council conjoin the two options by conditionally approving and submitting a facility plan and applying for funding simultaneously with a permit modification request.

He explained this option would substantially comply with the expectations while avoiding commitment to a specific plan. This would give the city more time to address the concerns, however it would require a $1,200 application fee, along with legal and technical services.

When it comes to addressing the permit itself, Marx said the city could apply for a variance (a temporary change to water quality standard), seek an extension of existing compliance schedule (which is rarely used), or pursue a legal challenge.

The council then went into a closed session with Marx to preserve attorney/client privilege.

In reopening the meeting, the council announced it will file draft facility plans with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency as a conditional filing subject to change. The council will also request an deadline extension in order to explore other options.

“Filing the draft plan preserves our place in line for grant funding,” explained City Administrator Annita Smythe, “but we’re hoping to get the extension, too, so we have time to see if there are other possible options to address the new regulatory limits.”

Fire department stipends increased

Cokato Fire Chief Hutch Erickson requested the council increase the department officers’ stipends, saying there has not been a raise for several years.

He presented a document to the council comparing Cokato’s stipends to those of other communities.

After reviewing the comparisons, the council approved the proposed amounts:

• chief: $2,500, previously $1,000;

• assistant chief: $1,500, previously $300;

• captain: $800, previously $250;

• 1st lieutenant: $700, previously $150;

• 2nd lieutenant: $600, previously $100;

• secretary: $700, previously $500; and

• safety officer: $200, previously $100.

Odds and ends

In other news, the council:

• authorized recruitment of pool manager;

• renewed the drug and alcohol testing contract;

• approved the Cokato Fire Department’s 2018 proposed budget;

• purchased a duplex controller;

• authorized signatories for city funds; and

• approved a Great River Regional Library agreement.

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