Wastewater facility could face $20M upgrades

Published 10:07 am Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The city of Austin has several upcoming concerns to deal with, chiefly a potential $20 million in upgrades to its wastewater treatment facility.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency enacted stricter water standards last year, which would hold cities responsible for managing their phosphate levels, among other things. Yet several cities and the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities pushed back against the new MPCA rules and asked legislators to revoke the standards as lawmakers hadn’t approved the changes.

While lawmakers initially seemed willing to address the new standards, only the Red River Valley and the Iron Range received exemption from the policy.

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That means Austin could be one of the first cities affected by MPCA fines if it doesn’t try to comply with the stringent demands.

City Administrator Craig Clark said coalition experts have estimated $20 million in additional costs for Austin based on similar changes made in Wisconsin, but no one will know for sure what those changes will cost until this summer, when the city’s permit with the MPCA expires.

“We’re kind of the guinea pig on this,” Mayor Tom Stiehm said.

In addition, the city is looking to potentially contribute to Vision 2020 projects over the next few years as the community improvement initiative turns its ideas into concrete proposals. The city could be expected to maintain a $35 million community recreation center built at either the downtown Austin Utilities plant or the post office district in the southeast part of the downtown area.

The city only has one capital project scheduled for 2016. City officials will buy the Austin Utilities office at 400 Fourth Street NE, where the city offices are, for about $275,000.

The city may also fund more nonprofits this year. The Mower County Historical Society is seeking funding from the city of Austin, and other groups could ask for additional grants.