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— A train derailment several months ago in Raymond led the city to examine some public needs.
The Minnesota Senate Capital Investment Committee made a stop in Raymond Nov. 8 to hear the city's requests for $6 million in the 2024 state bonding bill.
BNSF Railway train derailment on March 30, 2023, in Raymond,
which led to a fire and an evacuation of the residents throughout the whole town, brought to light the city's need for community facilities for safety and public space, according to presenter Brian Bollig of Bollig Engineering.
"This facility was based upon being able to house 125 evacuees that were not able to be housed here in Raymond when this derailment took place," said Laura Ostlie, funding program manager at Bollig Engineering. "There were many, many families that had to go up the road eight miles to another neighboring town to be housed in the church and the school when Raymond could not house them when that emergency took place on March 30."
Although the city was already aware that its water tower was inadequate to provide the city's water supply, the disaster in March drove the point home when fire trucks had to go elsewhere to get water to fight the fire from the train derailment.
"Fighting the fire ... the water tower is undersized and ran dry multiple times," Bollig said. "The mayor had somebody by the meter at the tower basically waving people off. They had to go find water someplace else to bring it back, because it was just so undersized."
Along with the 113-year-old water tower being undersized, the city is also facing the need to replace its 60-year-old water treatment plant and its aging water distribution system, according to Bollig.
"A large part of the water mains were built between 1923 and 1973," Bollig said. "They're cast iron that are now reaching (the end of) their useful life, having too many breaks. We also only have one crossing across the highway, so if something were to be causing issues with that, there would be no water to the north side of the community."
The water tower currently holds up to 35,000 gallons, but the city's needs are at least 50,000 gallons per day and that is projected to grow to 100,000 gallons. The city is proposing the construction of a 100,000-gallon water tower, which is supported by the Minnesota Department of Health.
Reports completed by the Minnesota Department of Health in 2020 showed that Raymond's water treatment plant was reaching the end of its useful life and the city should start planning for a new water treatment facility, according to Bollig.
He also explained that Raymond's largest well has arsenic in it, which is currently diluted with water from other wells. Although that is working, the new water treatment plant should have the capability to remove the arsenic.
The total project costs for the city's infrastructure needs is estimated to be $22.4 million, for which the city is asking for $4 million in a 2024 Minnesota bonding bill. Other funding sources would include local bonding and assessments. The city is also seeking a combination of state and federal loans and grants.
The city has completed nine different water main projects in recent years, for which the city has bonded and paid with sewer and water fees, according to Bollig.
Minnesota Sen. Sandy Pappas, who chairs the Senate Capital Investment Committee, asked what the average water and sewer bill is for a family of four.
"Raymond has been able to currently stick around that average of just $65 a month at this point in time," Ostlie said, noting that these project costs, if funded solely by the city, would push sewer and water bills to nearly $300. The city is currently looking at increasing its rates.
"Yes, because rates are typically closer to $100," Pappas commented.
She also informed the presenters that the state is the last dollar in, and the money has to be matched. If the city would like the $4 million from a 2024 state bonding bill, it will have to have the remainder of the $18.4 million in place to fund the project, or phase the project and complete $8 million of it with a match of $4 million.
"I mean, you can't usually do all of this in one season anyway. So figure out how you can break that down," Pappas said.
"That's a great point. And I think to your point of, have you been raising rates? They didn't know they had to start raising rates until we went through and looked at a comprehensive plan of all their needs simultaneously and now they're starting to understand that that's a very high cost," Bollig responded. "Now they are starting to look at the planning and how to implement that."
"You're not unique," Pappas said. "Most communities have not put aside money. They tend to bond and pay for it in the future."
The city is asking for $2 million in bonding funds for the $4.34 million project to construct the community facilities for safety and public space, which will include the construction of a steel structure building that will house the city offices and City Council chambers, have a large community meeting room, kitchen, Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant restrooms and other support spaces, according to Bollig.
This project will also seek additional federal and state grant funding sources of approximately $1.186 million and additional $1.186 million as a congressionally directed spending request — sometimes called earmarks — which members of Congress request be set aside for specific projects in their states.
The building would be constructed near the former East Elementary School in Raymond, which closed several years ago.
Portions of the school were recently demolished,
leaving only the gymnasium, several classrooms and restrooms. The city acquired the building from the MACCRAY School District in 2022.
"That's a big change within your city when a school leaves, but the city of Raymond has really taken it upon themselves to be resilient and they are actually in the process of redeveloping that school and utilizing some of that space," Ostlie commented.