City leaders request $40M for wastewater treatment plant

Oct. 24—City leaders emphasize impact cost of new plant could have on residents, businesses

Local leaders requested $40 million in state bonding funds Tuesday for Albert Lea's new Wastewater Treatment Plant during a brief House Capital Investment Committee stop at the plant Tuesday afternoon.

The request is part of an overall $80 million dollar project to upgrade the plant, which was built in 1981. In addition to the plant having aging infrastructure, the city is facing new regulations from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for phosphorus removal.

City leaders said without state funding, sewer rates will triple for residents from about $40 a month to $120 a month on average. Background information provided to the representatives stated that even with state funding, sewer rates will probably double.

Albert Lea Mayor Rich Murray said the project started at $30 million a few years back, but after the MPCA implemented new phosphorus guidelines, the project jumped to $60 million.

With inflation in wages and materials, that cost is now closer to $80 million.

"It's a big, huge project for a small community of 20,000," Murray said, noting the plant serves Albert Lea and the city of Manchester.

He also talked about how important the plant was for Albert Lea's industries.

Ten companies make up the bulk of what is treated there, and these companies employ 1,600 people with annual wages totaling $85 million. They could be prompted to move elsewhere if the higher sewer rates are implemented.

District 23A Rep. Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, said it is important to keep costs reasonable not only for residents and the major industries, but also places like nursing homes and the hospital in Albert Lea.

Murray said the city is on the verge of some great things happening in the community, referencing new industry and housing projects.

"With your help we can continue to make Albert Lea a great place to live and a great place to work," he said.

According to the city, the plant processes an average of 4 million gallons of wastewater per day, and under the new state limits, the city needs to remove 48 tons of phosphorus each year from what is discharged to the Shell Rock River. This ultimately flows into the Cedar River, the Iowa River and then the Mississippi River.

City Manager Ian Rigg said the project is ranked No. 17 out of 299 on the state's priority list.

He thanked legislators for the $2 million bonding appropriation from the last session that will go toward the grit removal building at the plant, which will be built first.

After the short presentation, the legislators went on a brief tour of the plant.

District 16A Rep. Dean Urdahl, Republican lead on the committee, said it was the committee's 10th day of looking at projects around the state. The committee hears hundreds of requests for funding and then also goes through hundreds of committee hearings before narrowing down those projects that will receive funding.

When asked how he thought wastewater treatment projects like Albert Lea's should fare in the final bonding bill, Urdahl said, "The wastewater projects should be one of our priorities."

He referenced strong support for treatment plants in the bonding bill that passed earlier this year and said he thinks they should continue this kind of support in the next bonding bill as well.

He appreciated the opportunity to be a part of the committee and learn about the needs throughout the state.

After the stop in Albert Lea, the group was headed to Austin, where it would hear additional requests for funding at the Hormel Institute and the Austin campus of Riverland Community College.

Earlier in the day Tuesday, there were stops in Eagan, Apple Valley, Faribault and Waseca.

The city of Albert Lea is also requesting $1.8 million for redevelopment at the Blazing Star Landing.

Background information provided to the representatives states the site is a prime location for housing and commercial sites but has a history of contamination, including arsenic, petroleum and vinyl chlorides, among other contaminants. The cost of cleaning up this contamination has been a barrier to development.