Will sewage capacity spur jobs?

Published 9:44 am Monday, May 21, 2012

Albert Lea has a big sewage plant, and economic development officials hope to use it to bring in companies and spur job growth.

So they went to the state to pass a measure that allows Albert Lea to set up a sewer-usage incentive plan. Typically, cities have disincentives or no incentives for heavy users, but many don’t have the available sewer capacity Albert Lea possesses. When Albert Lea lost Farmland Foods in 2001, it left a large portion of the plant’s capacity unused.

Passed in a bill related to economic development, the Minnesota Legislature this session approved a provision that will help Albert Lea better recruit what is called wet industries — manufacturers that use large volumes of water, mainly large-scale food processors. Gov. Dayton signed the bill May 10.

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The bill, House File 1721, contained several provisions for statewide economic development but among them was authorization for Albert Lea to establish an industrial sewer incentive plan. The program would operate similar to a tax-increment-finance district, just with sewer costs.

Albert Lea Economic Development Agency Exeuctive Director Dan Dorman said he has been working with the staffs of U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Tim Walz to approve a similar provision on the federal level.

“Because we have such a high unused sewer capacity, and we would like to get better use of it, it made sense to create an incentive to encourage businesses to use more sewer service,” Dorman said.

The provision would be for new or expanding businesses. The terms of the program have yet to be determined.

He said the city’s wastewater treatment plant was built to treat more water and noted that industrial sewer rates have been “out of whack” since the loss of Farmland Foods.

“If we don’t attract someone else and we lose one of our wet industries, we’re all going to be affected,” he said.

He noted while some people say this subsidizes the industry at the risk of all other sewer users, it will actually help other sewer users, too, in the long run if there is higher usage of the wastewater treatment plant.

City and economic development leaders now begin the task of setting up the incentive program.


What it says

The new law’s language regarding Albert Lea is:

“Notwithstanding Minnesota Statutes, section 444.075, the city of Albert Lea may by ordinance establish an industrial sewer charge rebate program in order to provide an incentive for new or expanded businesses that would be industrial users of the city’s wastewater collection and treatment system to locate in the city. The ordinance must specify the criteria for awarding a rebate. The rebate program must not result in increased charges to current users.”