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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Step forward for new Tower-Soudan drinking water plant

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 5/10/23

TOWER— Plans for a new drinking water treatment plant to serve residents in both Tower and Soudan took a step forward late last week with the announcement by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, …

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Step forward for new Tower-Soudan drinking water plant


TOWER— Plans for a new drinking water treatment plant to serve residents in both Tower and Soudan took a step forward late last week with the announcement by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, that they had signed a long-awaited project partnership agreement to invest $3.38 million in the project.
While the project now appears almost certain to go forward, a three-year-long delay in completion of the project agreement has pushed the cost of construction of the facility up sharply. A project once estimated to cost $4.5 million, is now pegged at $5.5 million, a cost that could now go higher as a result of new “buy American” provisions enacted by the Biden administration.
The Army Corps, which had originally pegged its funding at 75 percent of the total project cost, has rejected an increase in their allotment to help bridge the funding gap. That’s left the Tower-Breitung Waste Water Board searching for other funding sources, including a $2.1 million bonding request along with a potential loan from the Public Facilities Authority, or PFA.
“We’ve got our fingers crossed for something from the Legislature,” said clerk-treasurer Michael Schultz, during Monday’s city council meeting.
The city’s engineering firm, SEH, is also pushing for an update of the design of the project, and the council, after delaying the vote last month, agreed to an additional $50,000 in engineering fees to cover that work. The TBWWB has already spent around $250,000 on engineering for the project.
That expense will be rolled into whatever funding package is ultimately worked out for the project. Construction on the project is expected to take about 24 months.
In other action, the council, authorized spending up to $23,000 for replacement of metal doors and windows at the Hoodoo Point Campground store and bathroom. Some of the existing windows have rotting frames and glass panes that are dropping out of place. And many of the existing doors are rusted and look unsightly.
Campground manager Randy Pratt, who has been pushing for repairs to the bathroom for years, had assembled cost estimates for windows and the doors and estimated that all six metal doors and six windows could be replaced in the facility for no more than $23,000. He proposed taking half of that from his operating account and asked the council to approve taking the other half from the campground’s capital improvement account.
Pratt said he’d like to have the bathroom doors replaced in the next two weeks but would hold off on the other doors and windows until September, after peak season.
The council held off as well on a decision to install a new bathroom near the civic center and train depot as part of an overall improvement project around the depot and mini-park. The delay will give council members more time to decide whether to go with a “Green Flush” toilet or a stick-built option, preferably using a local contractor,.
The council has yet to decide whether to go with a utility hookup for the toilet or go with the utility-free option, which utilizes collected rainwater and a water-efficient design to flush the toilet into an underground vault.
Since the funding for the toilet is part of a larger project, which includes the extension of Main Street to the East Two River, the budget available for the toilet is likely to change depending on the final costs associated with the road portion of the project.
The decision delay is unlikely to affect the timeline for the restroom project. The lead time for ordering a Green Flush toilet is 7-8 months, noted council member Joe Morin. “We wouldn’t have it before October anyway, so another month won’t matter,” he said.
Mayor Dave Setterberg suggested that Schultz check with Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation to be sure that there is no imminent deadline on the use of the funding.
In related action, the council did approve ordering trail signage for the new kayak trail and other local, land-based trails.
In other business, the council:
• Heard from council member Morin that the city has been selected to take part in an 18-month process to identify and define opportunities for expanding the housing stock in the community. He said the city has selected its core group of severn participants in the effort but noted that any number of other residents with ideas or who are interested in helping on the project are welcome.
• Reminded everyone that Tidy Up Tower days are set for Saturday, June 3 and Monday, June 5. The clean-up effort is designed to address debris that comprises outdoor blight and is not an opportunity to dispose of household trash.
• Discussed, but took no action, on ways to possibly expand the city’s presence on social media and to better engage the public with city business.
•  Approved an application from former firefighter Steve Olson to rejoin the fire department.
• Approved maintaining Chaz Hanna as the city’s seasonal worker for the summer months.
• Approved a six-percent pay increase for TEDA executive director Marshall Helmberger. TEDA president Morin noted that the TEDA board had approved a three-percent raise for Helmberger last year, but that the increase was never passed on to city hall for implementation. Morin said Helmberger has proveN to be very efficient and well-suited for the job.
• Approved the charging of $65 per quarter for airport hangars connected to the airport holding tank. That’s consistent with city policy as approved by the Airport Commission, but the charge had not been assessed previously. The charge will help cover the cost of regular pumping of the holding tank, which was installed in 2018 when the city decommissioned the airport’s septic system.
• Approved a motion accepting the transfer of the land encompassing the civic center and the city’s mini-park from TEDA back to the city. The land had inadvertently been included in the new harbor plat, which had transferred all land within the plat to TEDA.
• Approved replacement of the old batteries in the city’s GEM car, which hasn’t operated for several years due to the inability of the existing batteries to hold a charge. City maintenance supervisor Ben Velcheff had confirmed that the batteries are available from Bob’s Service, for significantly less than other sources. The cost of the upgrade would be $2,400 plus tax for the batteries, plus city worker time for installation.
Once operating again, the vehicle will be located, for now, at the Tower Airport as a courtesy car for pilots and guests. The Airport Commission had earlier approved that option as an alternative to maintaining a more traditional vehicle.