David Sam, wastewater facilities manager at the idle $19.68 million Mille Lacs Lake area wastewater treatment plant, is ready to go to work.
Sam learned Wednesday that Mille Lacs County's petition for review of a 2003 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plant discharge permit was rejected by a three-judge panel of the Environmental Appeals Board. Sam said work would begin immediately to complete construction projects that had been put on hold for eight months before the plant was completely operational.
"We're in a hard-push mode to complete all the construction," Sam said Thursday morning.
For months, plant operators had been running clean water through the state-of-the-art facility to make sure the new equipment would remain in top condition. Sam said he hoped the plant would be ready to go by May 17.
"It's what we exist for," he said. "Now we can get down to the business of treating wastewater."
The Environmental Appeals Board's decision frees up $12 million in grant money that Garrison Mayor John Schley says now can be used to make hook-ups to the Garrison Kathio West Mille Lacs Lake Sanitary District system more affordable. Schley is chair of the district's board.
"I'm very happy the treatment plant issue is settled once and for all," Schley said. "The county's two appeals have prolonged environmental dangers, which is very sad, but the plant can finally move forward again and do what it was intended to do -- protect the environment."
Mille Lacs County Board Chair Roger Neske said he had not read a copy of the panel's decision and declined to comment for now.
Sam said an 18-inch receiving pipe will link the new plant to the collection system and pumps will now be set up in the lift station. The go-ahead for the area's central wastewater treatment plant will prove to be attractive to businesses and other developments that are considering the Mille Lacs Lake area, Sam predicted.
Older, malfunctioning septic systems on the west side of Mille Lacs will no longer be leaking into the lake, once everyone in that area is on board with the new system, Sam said.
The plant's major users will be the Mille Band of Ojibwe and the Garrison Kathio West Mille Lacs Lake Sanitary District. It is operated by ML Wastewater Management Inc. and its board includes representation from the Mille Lacs band, Garrison, Garrison Township and Kathio Township.
In May, a lawsuit by the county to have 61,000 acres declared outside of the Mille Lacs Reservation was thrown out by a federal judge. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that dismissal last month.
(This story includes information from The Associated Press.)
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