Brainerd Dispatch/Renee Richardson
CROSSLAKE - Earlier this month, Crosslake City Council members received a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency letter of warning, listing eight violations that extend back through fall, summer and spring involving wastewater plant discharges into the Pine River.
Crosslake Public Works Director Ted Strand told council members about problems at the plant, particularly a malfunctioning sand filter. But, he said, there was a word he didn't like to use - violation - and that had council members saying they were left unaware of the problem's severity.
The MPCA letter of warning, which was aired publicly at the Nov. 14 council meeting, fueled suggestions that a closed meeting may be needed to discuss personnel issues. Council member Dick Phillips' made a motion for a moratorium on new hookups to the municipal sewer system.
The motion didn't receive a second as his fellow council members wanted to wait for a special meeting Friday. Stand said he felt accused of a coverup, which was not his intention.
Strand, a licensed operator with 18 years of experience, had reported all findings to the MPCA.
Herschel Blasing, MPCA pollution control specialist based in Baxter, said after meeting with Strand and the city's engineers, the state agency was comfortable the response was sufficient to address concerns. Blasing said violations are not a major concern for public health or the environment.
"The violations that have been issued so far are minute," Blasing said.
The plant's problems appear to stem from the seasonal wastewater flow in the Crosslake area, which drops precipitously in the winter months as seasonal residents leave for warmer climates. The plant is designed to treat an average wet weather flow of 150,000 gallons per day. It has ranged from almost 70,000 gallons per day to below 10,000 gallons per day. The past 12 months, the plant has averaged 21,000 gallons per day.
In March and April when flows were less than 10,000 gallons per day, there was not enough flow to generate heat to keep water from freezing. The cold water essentially did not allow enough solids to settle. The building has since been insulated.
Gravity sand filters have not been working properly and the city is working with the manufacturer. Mark Hallan, city engineer with Widseth Smith Nolting, said the problem is essentially the low flow at night between - 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. - and reducing flow with a moratorium was the last thing the MPCA wanted to see. Hallan said as the city grows the low night flows are not expected to be an issue. The plant needs wastewater flow, Hallan said. The city anticipated 90,000 gallons of flow per day through phase one until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decided not to hook up with the city.
"Let me cut right to the bone," Phillips said, asking whether the city built the wrong wastewater treatment plant.
Hallan said Crosslake is basically dealing with problems associated with a plant startup and such low flows are not anticipated for the winter months. He said they are working to solve the sand filter problem. The plant started in June 2004.
"That's the bottom line," Hallan said.
Council member Terry Curtis said no one wants to overreact but he was uncomfortable with the learning curve involved in running the plant and hearing staff was getting better at it.
Hallan said every system is different and it is a learning process.
Eggena proposed adopting a mission statement that exceeding MPCA limits was unacceptable in Crosslake. Council members voted 3-2 with Mayor Jay Andolshek and council member Dean Swanson opposed.
Eggena said Strand was pulled in too many directions. He suggested Strand be dedicated to the plant management and another employee be named public works director. The other council members said they were not prepared to vote on that Friday. The motion failed. But another motion to set a meeting to talk about restructuring the public works department passed 3-2 with Andolshek and Swanson opposed. Eggena suggested the public works director report directly to him as liaison to the department and he could update the council each month. Eggena said a communication failure was part of the concern with the violations. His motion died for lack of a second. Swanson questioned if the move wasn't an effort to get rid of the city administrator.
"If he wants to get rid of the city administrator then say so right up front," Swanson said.
Curtis said maybe Swanson didn't like change and is opposed to ideas that weren't necessarily the product of his own thinking.
RENEE RICHARDSON can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.
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