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Paynesville Press - October 10, 2001

Sewer construction starts in Lake Henry

By Michael Jacobson

New sewer Construction has started on a wetland-style city sewer system for the city of Lake Henry.

Revamping its sewer system has been a priority for the small town for 20 years, according to former mayor Dan Liebl, who maintains the existing sewer system and has spearheaded the new sewer project.

After years of planning, construction has started on a new wetland-style sewer system for the city of Lake Henry. The system is located on a three-acre plot north of Lake Henry.

The existing sewer system - an Imhoff tank, trickling filter, and clarifier - was installed in 1952. The city came close to building a lagoon system in the late 1970s, but the grant that would have paid for 94 percent of the project fell through when the presidency changed.

The effort for an improved septic system has continued throughout the 1980s and 1990s, said Liebl. "It's going to be done after many, many, many years. We just have to figure out a way to pay for it," he said.

The city of Lake Henry received a $303,000 grant and a $147,000 loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development in 1999. At that time, construction was expected to start within six months, but the actual construction dragged, which forced the city to find another $60,000 grant to cover cost increases over the past two years, said Liebl.

Now construction on the wetland cells and the addition of another tank should be done and in operation this fall. "It'll be nice to finally get it done," said Liebl.

Wetland-style sewer systems have been growing in popularity in the state because of their longevity, efficiency, low cost, and aesthetic virtues. They work similarly to a household septic system: effluent settles in the tank and then the liquid flows through the subsurface of the wetland. Bacteria on the rocks as well as absorption by plant roots cleanse the water.

Chlorinated water will eventually flow into a ditch. "It's supposed to be a good system," said Liebl. "With the use we have, the MPCA should be real happy with what comes out."

Lake Henry will have two tanks and two wetland cells that will alternate use. The wetland system will be located on a three-acre site north of Lake Henry, where the current system is also located. The wetland cells should not be nearly as noticeable as a lagoon system.

The city did have to cut a concrete basin from the project and will still have to haul sludge from its tanks to the city of Paynesville's lagoons.

Lake Henry residents will have to decide how to repay the $147,000 loan to the city. Since Lake Henry doesn't have a water meter, some sort of fixed monthly fees will have to be charged. The city will hold a special public hearing on Thursday, Oct. 11, at 8 p.m. at city hall in Lake Henry to discuss how to pay for the project.

"It's going to be a little challenging, but we'll get through," said Liebl.

The new septic system will allow the town to grow. Lake Henry's population remained static at 90 people from 1990 to 2000, according to census results. For years, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) would not let the city of Lake Henry increase the use of its sewer system. A couple of years ago, the city received permission from the MPCA for four new hook-ups.

The new wetland system will allow many more hook-ups to the city sewer. "We expect our town to grow," said Liebl. "Who knows how much in the next 20 years? We will have twice the capacity of the existing city."

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