EAST GULL LAKE -- A proposed city wastewater treatment project for East Gull Lake may receive a permit to construct the project yet this fall.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is expected to review the city's application within two to three weeks. The review was expected earlier, but the city reported the delay came from state budget cuts and staffing shortages. Once a permit is received the city plans to go ahead with its proposed wastewater treatment project.
Anticipated project costs are $5,999,270. For residents, assessment cost per Equivalent Residential Connection is expected to be $13,100. One townhome and one home would equal one ERC. But city officials note total project costs are still an estimate. Once a permit is confirmed, the city can proceed with advertising the project and receiving bids.
The city mailed a letter to residents earlier this month with information on the proposed treatment system. The city previously sent out letters to affected property owners seeking signed easement papers to allow sewer line construction.
The city has received about 25 percent of easements sent out. Now the city plans to follow those letters up with phone calls to property owners who have not turned in easements. Condemnation proceedings are expected on properties where the city cannot get easements.
Don Gibbons, a Pine Beach Peninsula seasonal resident who has lived on Gull Lake for 50 years, is opposed to the city's central sewer plan.
Gibbons said the fact that most residents have not signed and returned easement papers to allow the city to run sewer lines from homes and on private streets is an indication of a lack of support for the proposed plan from residents.
"I certainly don't agree with him that there are 75 percent of the property owners opposed to the project," East Gull Lake Mayor Christopher Robinson said.
Gibbons said the city does not recognize what the costs are and he said the $13,000 estimate is more like $22,000 while a properly installed septic system and drain field can do the job for $5,000.
"If you have decent soil conditions and they are installed properly they are not a problem," Gibbons said of septic systems.
In a Nov. 4 letter to residents, Robinson stated the city council will review the project again if the bids come in much higher than anticipated.
"We are confident that the projections are accurate, but the council has no intention of proceeding with a project that has anticipated assessments far in excess of the current estimates," Robinson wrote. And Robinson noted the city council's perspective is that opposition to the project is not growing.
This week, Robinson reiterated the city council's support to proceed with the wastewater treatment project. Robinson said it is the council's belief the project is consistent with the comprehensive plan adopted by the community. Robinson noted the issue is not one that brought opposition candidates to the city council elections this fall.
At a public hearing in June, residents spoke against and in favor of the proposed wastewater treatment project. The project had residents weighing individual assessments, many for second home owners, against what the city says is needed to protect Gull Lake and Lake Sylvan.
Robinson said a centralized system treats pollutants not contained by on-site septics, including phosphorous and nitrogen that add to weed growth and loss of water clarity.
"They have not proved public necessity," Gibbons said of the project. "... There is no need. There is no mandate."
Robinson said a vocal minority has opposed the treatment system and attended meetings on a regular basis.
"We continue to receive letters and calls in support of the project also," Robinson said. "It is not a one-sided issue."
Gibbons said the city cannot handle the project financially and is bankrolling millions of dollars of the project cost with growth projections of new property owners to help pay for the system. Gibbons said he is not too far from filing a lawsuit saying the city's financing for the project is inadequate.
Robinson said he had no comments on a potential lawsuit and the city has not received any papers indicating one has been filed.
Robinson said the council is "very comfortable with the growth projections" that anticipate future growth in calculating the estimated ERCs.
"The city has grown rapidly in recent years and the number of building permits issued each year is compelling evidence that the city needs to plan for growth," Robinson wrote in his letter to residents. Current arrangements allow people to pay assessments during a 20-year term. The city is projecting about 20 percent growth during the next 20 years within the boundaries of the current project area. Robinson said the monthly service charge is expected to be $25 per month.
"We are confident those units will be used up and there will be property owners paying assessments to cover that with growth in the next 20 years," Robinson said Tuesday.
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