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Fairmont wastewater project cost: $50M

FAIRMONT — The Fairmont City Council heard some staggering figures for upgrades to the municipal wastewater treatment plant this week, but the sticker shock abated slightly when the council learned the improvements would be implemented in three phases over the next 20 years.

Kris Swanson, an engineer with Bolton & Menk, presented the council with a facility plan highlighting the need for the improvements that are estimated to cost between $44 million and $57 million but could qualify for state assistance. Early submission of the engineer’s facility plan to the state would make the projects eligible for grants.

The ideal funding source would be a state grant for up to 80 percent on eligible portions up to $7 million, or using a federal clean water revolving loan fund with an interest rate of 3 percent or less. Other funding sources include bonding, assessment, income-based grants and a rural development loan with an interest rate of up to 4 percent.

In developing the plan, Swanson said he looked at the facility and all the equipment, some of which is nearing its end-of-life usefulness or will not be sufficient to process wastewater in compliance with Pollution Control Agency standards.

He called the wastewater plant a $50 million asset for the city, built in 1973 and upgraded in 2006.

“The facility is in good shape, but there’s aging infrastructure that needs to be updated,” he said. “The state of Minnesota does not want to give out money to cities that don’t have a plan.”

Swanson outlined the three phases, which would include a new large continuous biosolids dryer and screens; filters to meet new PCA phosphorous goals; and new clarifiers to meet nitrogen limits. Each phase would run about one-third of the total improvement price tag.

He reminded the council that approval of the resolution would not be a green light on the project.

“You are not committing to the project tonight,” Swanson said. “It’s pretty much five years to get that first process online. We’re a year and a half away from even having a bid in front of us.”

On a motion from Ruth Cyphers and a second from Tom Hawkins, the council unanimously passed the resolution for the facility plan.

Turning to other business, two public hearings on increasing water and wastewater rates 5 percent each drew no comments from residents. Both increases, which will add a total of about $4 per month to the average residential bill, had been approved by the Fairmont Public Utilities Commission during its budgeting process for 2020.

Paul Hoye, city finance director, said the main driving force behind the increase is $8 million of proposed capital improvements over the next five years, and to start setting funds aside for the future upgrades at the wastewater plant.

The council unanimously approved both increases and noted the last rate increase was in 2013.

In another matter, Mark Sievert, interim city administrator, reported that 47 law firms in the region, plus all Fairmont firms, were invited to submit bids to become the permanent city attorney for civil legal services. Three firms from the metro area, including current interim attorney Flaherty & Hood, submitted proposals earlier, but some council members wanted firms in Mankato and New Ulm to be contacted.

Sievert said two Mankato firms expressed interest, with one submitting a bid and one bid pending. Deadline for bids is Feb. 24.

The council will hold a work session at 5:30 p.m. March 2 to evaluate the attorneys’ bids.

In other business, the council:

o Approved rezoning 924 Lake Ave. from a heavy industrial to general business. The Garbers family plans to remodel the structure on the site, the former Midco building, into an insurance office.

o Approved a temporary on-sale liquor license for April 18 at the Martin County Fairgrounds for the Martin County Pheasants Forever Chapter, an event permit for a June 13 car show on Downtown Plaza for the Borderline Car Cruisers Club and an event permit for June 12-14 for Interlaken Heritage Days.

o Approved a five-year agreement with KLJ to provide engineering services for the airport. As per FAA recommendations, the contract is reviewed every five years. KLJ has worked with the city and the airport since 2014.

o Approved a temporary and permanent construction easement for the Margaret Street trail extension that will expand the trail system from Margaret Street across Center Creek to the hotel cluster by the Interstate. TLC Properties (Lamar Advertising) agreed to the easement at no cost to the city.

o Set a work session for 5:30 p.m. May 18 to continue working with Pamela Whitmore, a collaboration and mediation manager with the League of Minnesota Cities. Whitmore met with the council Feb. 3 to help it work through the conflicts and improve communication, and the council wanted to continue the process.

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