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City to submit WWTP bonding bill request; Hopes to offset some costs for treatment plant upgrades

The city is hoping to help offset the costs of upgrades to the Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) by submitting a $15 million bonding bill grant request to Minnesota Management and Budget. The Austin City Council unanimously approved a resolution for the request during its Monday, June 3, meeting.

Austin’s WWTP is currently in need of upgrades that carry a price tag of roughly $73 million. The cost comes as a result of regulation changes passed by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), which largely target discharge from the plant, especially phosphorus reduction.

“Because of our population growth and our projected 20-year increase, we’re looking for a plant upgrade or increase,” City Engineer Steven Lang told the council. “Anytime you get a plant increase, you automatically get a phosphorus limit, so that will drive some of those improvements as well. The big thing that adds to our cost is we’re looking at a different treatment process. Our current treatment process works very well for our current regulations, but new regulations that we anticipate are coming in the future (will require us) to make this change to a different type of treatment process.”

While there is no deadline to complete the upgrades based on permitting, Lang said it was not something that should be ignored.

The needed upgrades have been a point of discussion for city leaders, particularly on how to pay for them.

“The council took a proactive approach a couple of years ago and raised the sanitary sewer rates and implemented some increases going out for the next five years,” Lang said. “Those are all great things to help us in the process, but we’re always looking for additional funding sources for this very large project that we’re planning for the wastewater treatment plant. […] Initial costs have come back in the range of $73 million for needed improvements at the treatment plant, so we will look for sources of funding.”

Lang arrived at the $15 million total after looking at other communities that have received these funds in the past for wastewater treatment plant improvements. Many of them were smaller communities that were awarded grant dollars ranging from $3 to $5 million. Prorating that based on population, Lang found the range for Austin would be anywhere from $12.5 million to $15 million.

“We’re asking to go above the state provision of appropriations,” said City Administrator Craig Clark. “A lot of the programs have caps on them. With the extraordinary cost, we really need some additional help that would exceed those maximums to help us address this issue.”

The deadline for the grant application is Friday.

The council also approved bonding bill requests for the Fourth Avenue State water trail and Ramsey natural area improvements. The funds would be used to enhance the areas for recreational use.

Both locations are part of the Cedar River State Water Trail.

The passage of resolutions of support was done to avoid a situation where the municipality does not accept state funding after legislative approval.