City seeks $10M for wastewater treatment plant

WILLMAR -- Willmar city officials asked state legislators Thursday morning for money to assist in designing and constructing a new wastewater treatment plant.

WILLMAR -- Willmar city officials asked state legislators Thursday morning for money to assist in designing and constructing a new wastewater treatment plant.

The Senate Capital Investment Committee was asked for $10 million over the next five years to cover 25 percent of the $40 million estimated cost. Another $10 million will be sought from the federal government. The local share will be $20 million.

The plant is proposed to be built west of the city, replacing the aging plant located just east of the Kandi Mall and near a residential area in southeast Willmar.

The city has 9,300 voters, but more than 24,000 adults work in Willmar every day, said Mayor Les Heitke. "We are a regional center. We know we have to plan for a wastewater treatment plant. We hope to shape your thinking in support of this,'' he said.

Ken Sedmak, senior program manager with Donohue and Associates of Sheboygan, Wis., the consultant designing the plant, said the city hopes to create a partnership with the state and federal governments.


He said the new plant will comply with environmental rules for removing phosphorus. Too much phosphorus increases algae growth in lakes and rivers, which leads to reduced oxygen in the water, causing fish kills and odors.

Willmar's present plant is the second-highest point source contributor (14 percent) of phosphorus to the Minnesota River watershed, said Sedmak. He said the new plant will reduce the city's phosphorus discharge by 90 percent.

Sedmak said the present plant uses rotating biological contactors, which he described as failed technology. Also, the present plant has objectionable odors, poor reliability, is in a restrictive location and will not meet future permit limits.

"It makes no sense to spend more money on the present plant,'' he said. "It is time to make a change and we think this is the appropriate time.''

He said the planning process will proceed through July 2006. Plans will be submitted to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency next March and design work will begin in late 2006. Construction will begin in mid-2007 and be completed in late 2010.

"We're moving right along on the planning process,'' said Sedmak.

He said the city is looking for grants, has some reserves and is increasing sewer rates 6 percent a year. He said industrial and commercial customers will be paying their fair share.

Sedmak said the state request will ease the economic burden on residents. Willmar's $33,455 median household income is below the federal poverty level of $41,994 and the state poverty level of $47,111. He said 8.4 percent of Willmar's families are below the poverty level, less than the 9.2 percent of families nationwide living below the poverty level but more than the 5.1 percent in the state. He said Willmar's rate for persons living below the poverty level is 13.1 percent, more than the 12.4 percent of persons living below the poverty level in the nation and the 7.9 percent in the state.


The senators were in Willmar as part of a three-day tour of projects being requested by 12 cities in central and west-central Minnesota. The tour is the second of five planned throughout the state.

Committee Chairman Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, told reporters the committee will determine how the needs can be met with the amount of funds available when lawmakers consider the bonding bill next year.

"It just depends on the timing,'' he said. "And that's true with a number of our other projects, too. What we want to know now is what is needed for the bonding bill this coming year. Today I don't think we know that as far the Willmar waste treatment plant. By the time we go into session, I expect we will and we'll be able to deal with it.''

He said not more than 3 percent of the general fund is spent on debt service, which means about one-third of the $2.5 billion in requests will be approved. He said the visits help lawmakers better remember the requests.

Langseth said about 40 percent of the bonding bill goes to higher education. Wastewater projects rate highly and generally receive $30 million every two years.

When Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, was asked how Willmar's project stacks up, he said there are many more wants than money.

"Minnesotans have a choice,'' he said. "We either start to make those investments and clean up now or we'll pay more later on.''

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