BAXTER — An influx of more than 6,700 people for a summer event was welcome in Baxter, but it did expose a weakness below ground.
That weakness could have been costly on several levels for residents and businesses if a crisis wasn’t averted.
This week, Baxter officials met in a workshop to look at options to prevent a close call in the future.
At issue is sewer flow.
“For one day this summer it hit over critical mass and if there would have been one problem or one pump would have gone down we could have had major sewer backups in the city that would have probably taken out all of the commercial district and three-quarters of the residential in Baxter, that’s how serious it is,” said Trevor Walter, public works director. “It is very critical.”
The large church event in Baxter put the city at 2.5 times the normal sewage flow. About two-thirds of the city is hooked up to the sanitary sewer, roughly 5,000 residents.
After the equivalent of a small city spent three days at Forestview Middle School in Baxter, the weakness in the system was apparent.
Pumps were running 25 hours without a break and could not keep up the entire day.
Baxter’s sanitary sewer system generally flows in a northerly and easterly direction through multiple lift stations. Lift station No. 2 is by Cypress and Excelsior roads handles large volumes, more than it was originally designed to handle.
“The way this has developed has caused us to pump sewage so many times, it’s unbelievable,” Walter said as he laid out the sewer system’s progression through the city’s growth. In some cases, he said the city is pumping sewage nine and 11 times before it reaches the treatment plant.
Earlier this week the council looked at long-term and short-term fixes to the system and the feasibility of extending a municipal sanitary sewer through a force main south of Highland Scenic Drive, or Highway 48. The study had the city funding the full project cost with reimbursement coming from collection of lift station fees. Temporary improvement costs could be collected from larger parcel owners west of Highway 371.
Walter said a Band-Aid fix buys time by using bigger pumps and a larger force main could be installed for Lift Station No. 2 across Highway 210 as the city starts to plan out a south interceptor route, which would take the load off the lift station and is the preferred long-range solution. Walter said taking the load off Lift Station No. 2 will save the city money and allow a better way to handle future city growth.
“We believe it’s what the city of Baxter needs for its future,” Walter said.
After that, it comes down to funding.
Tuesday the city council looked at south Baxter interceptor force main improvements and Camwood Trail and Chestnut Drive area improvements as part of a maintenance study. The goal was to create disaster plan enhancements in case of mechanical or electrical failures.
Proposed improvements include installation of a lift station north of Mapleton Road, between Knollwood and Ironwood drives and putting in a six-inch force main buried 8.5 feet deep, among other improvements. The cost is expected to be about $1.2 million or $1.3 million.
“We need to do something soon and by doing it soon, it isn’t tomorrow, but is in the forefront and how do we do it financially?” asked council member Rob Moser. “How are we going to pay for it saying we are going to do it in 2014? We need to start thinking about it soon if we are going to do it then.”
The council questioned if a sales tax extension might make sense for the project along with potential grant dollars.
Walter said 2014 would be the earliest for such a big project that involves numerous agencies from the Crow Wing County Highway Department to Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. In the meantime, the city has the ability to use the interim fix.
“It gives us time to look at options,” said Mayor Darrel Olson.