Before the city of Brainerd spends $4.115 million on a dam site that Wausau Paper officials estimate dates back to the late 1800s there are a number of questions that should be answered.
We’ll echo Brainerd City Council member Mary Koep’s call for a public hearing on the matter and an informational session on the benefits and potential costs of operating the dam.
In mid-November the Brainerd City Council voted unanimously to enter into a purchase agreement with Wausau, kicking off a 90-day due diligence period. Studies and inspections of the dam are expected to be conducted during this period.
One issue that should weigh heavily in this decision is a cost/benefit analysis regarding whether the electricity generated by dam is worth the costs of operating the facility. A Wausau official who hosted a September tour of the site said that four full-time personnel and some part-time relief help staff the dam 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The official also said the dam produces an average of 17 to 18 million kilowatts a year, which sold back to Minnesota Power.
Is there a private entity, such as Minnesota Power, which might be interested in purchasing the dam? If not, why not?
Whoever is responsible for the dam will operate it under government regulations that strictly dictate the level of water on the river. There are also potential liability issues that come with ownership.
It would be a disservice for the city to complete this deal without a full airing on the benefits and liabilities of municipal dam ownership. Once the studies are complete the city should schedule a public hearing and see how the idea holds up under scrutiny.