Disputes over the future wastewater plant in Brainerd and Baxter were taken into a sort of therapy session Wednesday.
Meeting at the Northland Arboretum, the city councils of Baxter and Brainerd, as well as the utility commissions for both cities, sat together for a more than two-hour meeting to discuss details and concerns surrounding the $20 million expansion plans for the wastewater treatment facility.
The meeting was moderated by Roger Williams, who worked for many years in dispute resolution for the state of Minnesota. Williams directed the flow of the meeting, sought opinions from both sides on what he termed "sticking points" and made sure no concern was left unanswered.
The specific issue of the meeting, and Baxter's main concern, is what ownership and management Baxter will have in the future wastewater treatment facility expansion.
While the city of Brainerd owns the current facility, Baxter would like to have more of a say in the operation, especially considering Baxter would be paying for its share of the expansion.
"We desire to be a partner, not a customer, in this venture," said Baxter City Administrator Dennis Coryell.
The two cities had joint meetings concerning the wastewater treatment facility from January through March of 2004, but stopped after the Brainerd Public Utilities Commission declined input from the city of Baxter concerning a facilities study, said Baxter Public Works Director Trevor Walter.
While Brainerd officials didn't make any official statements Wednesday, several council members let their opinions be known on the subject. Council member Lucy Nesheim suggested the cities should work out an agreement similar to what's already in place, one where Baxter is the city of Brainerd's customer.
Council member Bob Olson said he had no problems with the city of Baxter having a say or some sort of ownership in the wastewater treatment facility. He said the most important thing both cities must do is sit down to work those issues out.
"If we give Baxter 50 percent ownership, maybe that's the first step in merging our other departments," Olson said.
PUC member Bonnie Cumberland said the Brainerd City Charter would have to be studied to determine what could be done as far as ownership of the facility.
Coryell said that Baxter feels it hasn't received enough information about Brainerd Public Utilities' plans and that the city of Baxter is being rushed toward an expensive decision. He said it would be Baxter's first choice to build a facility with Brainerd.
Brained Public Utility member Bill Wroolie apologized to the city of Baxter for a perceived lack of communication between the two cities involving the wastewater treatment plant.
"We desire and will maintain our efforts to build trust among all our constituents and into the future," Wroolie said.
Baxter Mayor Darrel Olson said statements that Baxter would be a customer and not a co-owner of the treatment facility have left Baxter officials feeling that the city of Brainerd is going forward with the treatment facility regardless of Baxter's input.
"It sounded like you've shut the door before the car has even started," Olson said.
There also was discrepancy over whose name would be on the facility's permit from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Baxter officials thought Baxter would be named on the permit along with Brainerd. Brainerd officials said they hadn't heard that Baxter would be on the permit.
The current wastewater treatment plant, at BPU's facilities on Highland Scenic Drive in Baxter, went into service in 1982. Its age and the growth of Brainerd and Baxter have necessitated an expansion of the facility.
Under a proposal, expansion of the wastewater treatment plant would happen in two phases at BPU and the current plant would be scaled back to 1.5 million gallons of wastewater treated per day.
The first phase would add capacity for 4.5 million gallons of wastewater per day in the expanded facility, which could be operational by 2009. The second phase would increase capacity by 1.2 million gallons of wastewater per day.
Another joint meeting between the city councils and utility commissions of Baxter and Brainerd will be 7 p.m. May 18 at Northland Arboretum.
At that meeting questions regarding the MPCA permit, Baxter's input to the facilities study and example rate contracts will be discussed.
Todd Wicklund, BPU finance director, also noted that the Public Utilities Commission will meet 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at the BPU Center to discuss cost options concerning the facility expansion.
MATT ERICKSON can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5857.
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