St. Francis plans for wastewater facility improvements

Though nothing is set in stone and there will be many more opportunities for public input, the St. Francis City Council March 17 took a first step toward making needed wastewater treatment improvements by approving a plan to be submitted to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

The move followed a public hearing on the issue that included a presentation by Paul Saffert of Bolton & Menk, the engineering firm that developed the improvement plan.

According to Saffert, the city’s existing plant was built in the 1970s and upgraded in 2000 and is not equipped to address existing and future regulations regarding ammonia and phosphorus. It also needs to be expanded to provide additional capacity for the city’s growth.

The influent wetwell is difficult and unsafe to access, its waterproofing is failed and it has structural issues. Also according to Saffert’s report, there is difficulty with handling the screenings in pretreatment and it lacks safe pump access. The pond system struggles to meet ammonia limits during cold weather and is unable to treat to new preliminary effluent limits.

Saffert summarized several options along with their pros, cons, and estimated costs. The recommended option is an activated sludge with enhanced nutrient removal alternative, through which bacteria consumes waste in a controlled process. This option would meet current and future nutrient removal regulations and would allow wastewater to be reused. It is also the most economical option with the best chance of qualifying for grant funds, said Saffert.

The estimated cost of the facility improvements ranges from $15.95 million to $22.2 million, with potential funding from Rural Development, the Clean Water Revolving Fund, Point Source Implementation Grants and Wastewater Infrastructure Funding.

Average monthly sewer access charges would be expected to climb from $37 to somewhere between $40.44 and $57.32, depending on loan interest rates and grant amounts.

Another possible option for St. Francis may be to regionalize its wastewater treatment system with the Metropolitan Council by accessing East Bethel’s new system. Councilmember Steve Kane pointed out that this option would cost the city much less. Whether it is in fact an option is up to the Metropolitan Council.

Councilmembers Tim Brown and Chris McClish both pointed out that so far the city has only approved the resolution on the facility plan for the MPCA; it has not actually committed to any costs. Mayor Jerry Tveit said there will be many more opportunities for the public to provide input on the wastewater treatment improvements.

Tentatively, construction of the improvements would begin in fall of 2015 with completion in the spring of 2017.