EAST GULL LAKE -- East Gull Lake Mayor Dan Collins said today that his city has been used like a pawn in the annexation dispute between the cities of Brainerd and Baxter.
And despite Monday's decision by the Brainerd City Council to route a East Gull Lake sewer line north to bypass Baxter, Collins said the city has never formally approached Brainerd for the connection. A sewer connection, said the mayor, may not become a reality. The city may decide instead to expand its own treatment plant, another option the city has been exploring.
"From what I've been reading in the paper, (Brainerd) council members act like it's a cut and dried thing," said Collins, of the sewer line extension. "That's not true. I think in a way we've been used. It's been an issue about which route to take and we haven't been consulted about it at all."
Collins said East Gull Lake City Council member and city wastewater committee member Steve Engel approached the Brainerd Public Utilities Commission about exploring the option of extending Brainerd sewer services to the city. In November of 1999, Engel sent a letter of intent to Brainerd to explore the use of a sewer connection. Collins said he learned of the "strongly worded" letter at Tuesday's East Gull City Council meeting.
Such a letter, said Collins, should have been sent and signed by himself as mayor. Even so, said Collins, the council has never heard a presentation about a sewer connection and has never voted on the issue.
Engel could not be reached for comment.
Collins said the city received a draft proposal last year by Brainerd which explained costs associated with a sewer line. The city then hired Ehlers and Associates to compare costs between treatment plant expansion or sending wastewater to Brainerd. There were many unanswered questions and hidden costs associated with connecting to Brainerd, said Collins.
According to a memo to the East Gull Lake City Council dated Oct. 5, 1999, Rusty Fifield of Ehlers and Associates said it would cost the city $3,616,080 to expand its own treatment plant and collection system while it would cost $5,707,417 to connect to Brainerd, including construction and collection costs.
Collins said he was concerned about how the city would lose control over treatment decisions if the city sent wastewater to Brainerd. East Gull Lake's treatment plant is doing a good job of handling its wastewater now, he said.
Brainerd City Council member Gary Scheeler said today the city of Baxter's needs were the driving force behind the East Gull Lake sewer connection. Brainerd, he said, needed a sewer line in that contested annexation area to prove to Minnesota Planning next week that the city has the ability to serve that area.
"We have to serve that area if we're going to be winners with Minnesota Planning," said Scheeler.
"No," said Baxter City Administrator Larry Kruse today, when asked if Baxter was pushing for the East Gull Lake sewer line. "If that's the case, they've left us out of the conversation. We've had no say in the planning process, but we've been happy to participate."
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