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Willmar Mayor Les Heitke speaks during Tuesday's groundbreaking ceremony. Tribune photo by Bill Zimmer

City holds groundbreaking ceremony for new treatment plant

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WILLMAR -- State Sen. Joe Gimse of Willmar says he'll appreciate the city's new wastewater treatment plant when construction of the project is completed during the next couple of years.

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"I certainly appreciate this project because I live a block from the existing wastewater treatment facility,'' Gimse said during a groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday afternoon at the new plant site located west of Willmar.

"Thanks for whatever you did to stop the odor from being as bad as it was,'' he said to local officials, "but I'm going to really appreciate it being out here.''

Gimse also said the new plant will provide an opportunity and capacity for growth in the city's residential and commercial base.

Gimse, R-Willmar, was among lawmakers who congratulated Willmar for undertaking what Mayor Les Heitke called the largest public works project in the history of Kandiyohi County.

Heitke said the present treatment plant was the newest of its kind when it was built 70 years ago. But he said city growth has increased flows and loading. He said failed equipment at the present plant is worn out, and the treatment process does not comply with new water quality regulations associated with the Minnesota River. Also, neighboring communities -- most recently the city of Kandiyohi -- have asked to join the system.

"It's been a long project. We've been thinking about it probably for 10 to 15 years and finally all the pieces are in place,'' he said. "It's the right thing to do.''

Heitke said the City Council approved a resolution in September 2004 to move the plant and improve the conveyance system. Planning took place in 2005 and 2006, design and engineering began in 2006, and construction, which began Sept. 8, will continue through 2010. In 2011, the old plant will be decommissioned.

Heitke said the plant will provide new treatment capabilities, reduce phosphorus loading by 90 percent, meet stringent ammonia requirements to improve water quality, eliminate sewer surcharging and overflows, and provide treatment capacity for failing septic systems that will be connected in the future.

Heitke joined City Council members, city administration, wastewater treatment staff, members of project consultant Donohue and Associates, local legislators, Chamber of Commerce, and builders and contractors during the program.

Staff members read congratulatory letters from U.S. Sens. Norm Coleman and Amy Klobuchar and U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, who said they were unable to attend but pledged to continue to help Willmar in the city's quest for federal funding.

State Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, said the project is a local-state-federal partnership and joins a long list of projects to address environmental concerns and water quality. Also, he said the project is a jobs program that will help Willmar expand its industrial park.

Heitke said the project sets up the city for the future.

"Long after most of us are gone and have retired, this project will be serving this community and the growth of this community,'' he said. "It's a clear example of long-range planning that is needed and necessary and I couldn't be more pleased with the effort of so many people.''

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