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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota


Council OKs study of wastewater treatment expansion

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 5/26/21

TOWER— The city council here, on Monday, approved a motion to request an engineer’s study of options for addressing the community’s lack of wastewater treatment capacity. At a time …

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Council OKs study of wastewater treatment expansion


TOWER— The city council here, on Monday, approved a motion to request an engineer’s study of options for addressing the community’s lack of wastewater treatment capacity. At a time when the city is aggressively seeking new development, the lack of treatment has been a key piece of infrastructure that’s limiting growth, and it’s one that the Tower Economic Development Authority has been pushing the council to address for some time.
TEDA Director Marshall Helmberger, on Monday, noted that a new RV park proposal, in which the developer was hoping to connect to the municipal system only to be informed that there was insufficient capacity, brought focus back to the issue.
“For most developers, being able to hook up to a municipal system is the easy way,” said Helmberger. “You hook it up and you don’t have to worry about it. That’s what most developers are looking for and right now we really can’t offer that.”
Complicating the issue is that the city relies on the Tower-Breitung Waste- water Board to manage its wastewater treatment system and some Breitung officials have expressed reluctance in the past about expanding capacity. Armed with this week’s motion, Tower representatives on the TBWWB will now bring the request for the study to the joint powers board for consideration.
While the TBWWB has been closing in on its capacity limit for some time, a 2018 city council decision to connect the Hoodoo Point Campground to the municipal system essentially consumed the remaining capacity.
While Monday’s motion passed unanimously, it prompted considerable discussion about other ways to address the issue. Council member Dave Setterberg noted that the city was making progress on inflow and infiltration (I and I) into the system, and that it could build capacity through continuing that effort. Council member Joe Morin agreed but noted that an engineer’s study would likely also analyze the potential gains through an I and I reduction plan. “That’s why I support the study,” said Morin. “We need to have the facts in front of us.”
Mayor Orlyn Kringstad agreed, also voicing support for the study.
Expansion of the current pond system could pose significant financial hurdles, since a permit for increased capacity is likely to come with stricter limits on discharges. If so, that could require mechanical treatment in addition to ponds, an outcome that would substantially increase both the construction costs associated with an expansion as well as ongoing operational costs for the system. Reducing I and I, which currently accounts for a significant percentage of the wastewater flow, could help increase capacity. TEDA has also discussed the construction of a cluster system on the west side of the East Two River, to serve existing businesses and the county public works garage, as well as the proposed new RV park, without having to connect to the municipal system. A cluster system is like a standard septic system but is considerably larger and is designed to serve multiple users. If built, it could later be connected to the municipal system if and when the TBWWB expands its treatment capacity.
Recreational trails
The council also approved another study, this one to be conducted by the Lake Vermilion Trail joint powers group on a planned paved trail segment from the Y Store to Tower. Carol Booth, of Cook, informed the council that the planned route is flagged and that the group is working with an engineering firm on an environmental assessment, which would include some city-owned property. “We’re not asking for money,” said Booth. “But we would like a motion allowing us to do the analysis.”
In other trails-related action, the council approved an agreement with the Arrowhead Regional Development Commission to create a master trail plan for the community. Grants manager Nancy Larson said will take about six months to complete the plan, which will be overseen by a local steering committee. Kringstad and Morin agreed to take part on the steering committee, which will be made up of representatives from various groups with an interest in trails.
“Trails are really important to our area,” noted Larson. They’re a real economic driver and this plan will look at new trails as well as issues with existing trails,” she said.
The $10,000 price tag for the study is being funded by a $5,000 grant from the Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation and a $2,500 commitment each from the city and TEDA.
New campground contract
In other action, the council approved a new five-year contract with Randy Pratt as manager of the Hoodoo Point Campground. The decision came with little discussion, although Clerk-Treasurer Victoria Ranua noted that she had made some changes to the contract to more accurately reflect the actual job duties. “The city attorney reviewed the changes and saw no problem with them,” Ranua said. Some on the council did spot some typographical errors among the changes, however, and they approved the contract contingent on correcting spelling errors.
In related action, the council voted to repeal city Ordinance 14, which dates back to 1967 and places day-to-day management of the campground under the auspices of a city Tourism Development and Administration Commission. Such a commission has not existed for decades, noted Ranua, and seems to conflict with the longstanding practice of the city to contract out for campground management.
In other business, the council:
• Approved getting quotes to extend electrical service to a portion of the harbor. Morin said he had received a request from a local businessperson who was interested in being able to offer services like a food cart at the harbor at busy times. Councilors noted that the harbor has been used by others in the past for events, but that the lack of electrical service has required the use of generators.
• Approved a motion to appoint Deputy Clerk Terri Joki-Martin as the point person at city hall to work with the local events board on 4th of July activities.
• Approved the hiring of Olivia Suihkonen as the city’s seasonal summer worker.
• Approved a motion directing the clerk-treasurer to update all city lease properties. In some cases, said Ranua, there are no existing leases that can be found at city hall.
• Under the consent agenda, approved a letter of support for the Northeast Minnesota Mine Tour Project. It also proposed a $1,000 contribution toward the effort in 2022.
• Accepted the resignation of Marshall Helmberger from the Tower Fire Department.


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