Roscoe considers its wastewater options

This article submitted by Michael Jacobson on 5/10/00.

Citizens of Roscoe heard about the city's wastewater options at a public informational meeting held by the city council on Monday, May 1, in the basement of St. Agnes Catholic Church.

The city council called the meeting, which attracted a crowd of 40 people, to present a preliminary engineering report to the community, so the citizens could have input into the solution the city chooses.

Mayor Don Heinen summarized the intent of the meeting at its conclusion, saying, "This is your town. We're not trying to force anything on you. We need input on what you want to do."

The city, which presently has a municipal water system but provides no septic system, has a number of options for wastewater. These options, as illustrated by Larry Haukos of S & S Environmental Services, range from taking no action to installing a collection system and treatment facility.

Right now, city residents use private septic systems.

Leaving sewer systems as a responsibility of individual citizens would have no public cost, as each individual would be forced to manage and pay for their own system. This might be the most equitable in terms of cost as well, and it is appealing to those property owners in the city who recently have installed new septic systems.

Karen Voz, of Stearns County Environmental Services, explained at the meeting that the county steps in to insure that individual septic systems were up to code either when property was sold or when a system was failing. That is, either waste was surfacing.

A disadvantage of this system is that in the years to come it probably becomes increasingly difficult to put individual systems on each of the city lots. Plus, pollution and health hazards are harder to monitor and eliminate under a loose organization. This option would also have difficulty obtaining grants.

The second option is to cluster houses onto septic systems. Septic systems, like for individual systems, would still be used, but houses would be grouped together and the city would own the infrastructure.

This, too, has a relatively low cost, but would involve a complicated organization and operation scheme by the city, who would have to negotiate the cluster arrangements, construct and monitor the systems, and gain easements for the property.

While this option would allow existing compliant systems to decline to participate, it would also make expansion more complicated.

The estimated present cost of this system, plus 20 years of maintenance, was $682,750.

Collection and treatment
The most expensive option is for the city to install a city-wide collection system, and then build a treatment and disposal facility.

The two options for collection are a gravity-flow system and a low pressure system that would use grinder pumps at a residence or cluster of residences. These pumps eliminate the need for lift stations. They also would allow the pipes to avoid following the grade in town, which would be easier to construct because of less impact on existing streets.

The cost of a gravity flow system was estimated at $572,177, and the cost of the low pressure system at $436,330. (All estimates contain 20 years of maintenance.)

Treatment options ranged from piping the city's waste to another treatment facility to building stabilization ponds or a constructed wetland to buying a package plant.

The city of Paynesville's lagoons are the most conveniently located municipal sewer as far as Roscoe is concerned. The cost of piping the waste there, without knowing if the city of Paynesville would accept such an arrangement, was estimated at $844,984.

Stabilization ponds ($613,233) allow wastewater to be treated biologically for six months and then discharged to surface water, according to the engineering proposal. A problem for Roscoe, in addition to possible odors, is that discharging to surface waters would be difficult with none in the immediate vicinity.

A third treatment option is a constructed wetland, which is the type of system that was built in the city of Spring Hill last fall. While this system is easy to operate, it may be influenced by severe weather or stress to the wetlands. The biological treatment in the wetland is also difficult to monitor. The estimated cost is $775,893.

Both the stabilization ponds and the constructed wetlands would require a substantial purchase of land.

The last option is to buy an aerated package plant. This unit-which would need a settling tank, package plant, and drainfield-could be sized for the needs of the city of Roscoe. Its treatment is easier to monitor, but requires substantial main-tenance and a knowledgeable operator.

It had the lowest estimated cost of the treatment systems ($384,681).

Combining a collection system with a treatment system yields total costs for a working system between just over $800,000 to almost $1,500,000.

(These estimates were based on preliminary designs and were primarily intended for comparing the costs of the different systems.)

Mark Ritter of Midwest Assistance Program explained some of the grants that the city of Roscoe could apply for to help fund the project.

A primary source would be rural development funds from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Both Spring Hill and Lake Henry have received grants and loans from the USDA.

The USDA uses a formula based on median household income to determine the amount a community can pay. Taking that median income, which is $21,406 for Roscoe, the USDA figures the residents can afford to pay 1.7 percent per year for a wastewater system.

For Roscoe, that comes out to $364 per year, or $30.50 per month for operation, debt retirement, and maintenance.

Figuring for 50 households in the city, residents of Roscoe will generate less than $20,000 per year for a system. However, the USDA will only pay for 75 percent of a system in grants, meaning the city will need to find additional grant money to keep the costs per household at $364 per year.

Applications for the next round of USDA funding must be at a certain stage by October. If Roscoe could obtain funding then, it's possible that final plans could be made in the winter and construction could begin next spring.

If agreement on how to proceed isn't reached quickly, the city of Roscoe could miss that deadline and be forced to wait a year. Council member Mike Christian said it should be easy to wait another year, since the situation has been years in the making anyway.

The city council anticipated further discussion on their wastewater options at their council meeting last Monday night.

Lake Henry project
Construction of a new wastewater treatment facility in the city of Lake Henry is nearing, but awaits final approval of the plans by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, according to mayor Dan Liebl.

The city of Lake Henry, whose current system was installed in the 1950s, will add another tank and build a constructed wetland at the city's wastewater treatment site just north of town.

The USDA, which is supporting the project with a $303,000 grant and a $147,000 loan, has already approved the plans.

Once the MPCA approves the final plans, it will take six weeks for the city to let the bids and accept one. If the MPCA approves the plans in the next six weeks, the city could finish the bidding process in early August and construction could start later that month.

Liebl was hopeful that construction could be done this fall, depending on whether contractors need work.

The new system will have twice the capacity currently required by the city residents, which could then be used to accommodate growth, Liebl said.

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