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Request for federal dollars for treatment plant goes over well

WILLMAR -- Willmar officials requesting federal assistance for the city's new wastewater treatment plant received a good reception from three members of Minnesota's congressional delegation during a visit two weeks ago.

"They can't guarantee us anything, but they had indicated they will try hard for funding for this project, even though the earmarks are eliminated for 2007 and this is for 2008 money,'' said Mel Odens, city public works director.

Odens was among the Willmar officials who called on Sen. Norm Coleman, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and Rep. Collin Peterson in Washington D.C. on Feb. 13 and 14. The Willmar group asked for $2 million as part of the city's overall federal funding goal of $10 million toward the $70 million cost of the treatment plant and conveyance system.

"We'll continue to request line-item funding until those goals are met,'' said Craig Holmes, program manager for project engineer Donohue and Associates. Holmes also made the trip to Washington.

"It's administered through the U.S. (Environmental Protection Agency), so it's commonly done for these types of projects,'' said Holmes.

He said EPA agreed to fund communities like Willmar, which are replacing failed treatment technology called rotating biological contactors, but Congress never appropriated the money. Odens said cities like Willmar were encouraged in the late 1970s and early 1980s to use rotating biological contactor technology. Later, EPA recognized the technology was a failure due to mechanical and treatment problems, he explained.

Holmes said the new plant is needed to comply with stricter federal effluent limits.

"We can't do it with the technology we have. We have to replace it,'' he said.

Holmes said the city has received a federal grant of $477,000 from fiscal year 2006. The money will be used to pay for costs that were covered with local funds.

Odens and Holmes presented a brief report on their trip to the Willmar City Council's Public Works/Safety Committee Tuesday evening.

In other business, the committee approved a recommendation from Holmes to replace an excess flow pump at the present treatment plant. Estimated cost is $170,000. The recommendation will be forwarded to the council on Monday.

Holmes said excess flow pumps bring wastewater into the plant during high flow periods. The new pump is needed because the present pumps not serviceable. The new pump will be moved to the new treatment plant when the old plant is no longer used to treat wastewater, he said.

In other business, the committee recommended the council introduce and set a hearing for an ordinance amendment defining a public place.

The ordinance, passed in the late 1970s, states no person shall mix or prepare intoxicating liquor for consumption or consume intoxicating liquor in any public place not licensed under city and state law. However, the ordinance does not define a public place.

The amendment would define a public place as any building or outdoor space that is open to the public with or without an admission fee.

The amendment was needed to deal with issues such as drunk driving, fights and serving alcohol to minors at places where the public was invited and charged admission, explained Police Chief Jim Kulset.

One such place during the past year was the Armory, which was rented and where "entertainment'' was provided, and people were charged admission and brought their own alcohol. Kulset said the Armory is no longer being used for that purpose.

"There was no regulation ... there was no accountability because it was not a licensed premise and no license holder that had to worry about serving intoxicated people or serving minors,'' Kulset said.

He said the issue resurfaced when he heard that other places might also be used for similar purposes.

"This amendment would require a license if admission is charged and is made open to the public,'' he said.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150