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City to file contested case hearing with MPCA

The Albert Lea City Council on Monday authorized the city to file a petition for a contested case hearing with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to address the city’s questions and concerns with two recent draft reports by the agency.

Albert Lea Mayor Vern Rasmussen Jr. said in a news release the MPCA’s draft Shell Rock River Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) and Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy (WRAPS) reports have significant regulatory impacts for the city’s wastewater treatment plant and economic impacts for our residents and businesses.

Rasmussen said the draft TMDL report in its current form will unnecessarily limit future economic growth and require the city to spend up to $40 million dollars on capital improvements to its wastewater treatment plant to make major phosphorus reductions in the Shell Rock River.

The city of Albert Lea, along with the Shell Rock River Watershed District, have identified major deficiencies and uncertainty with MPCA’s draft TMDL study, and the city is concerned that MPCA’s proposed TMDL requirements will require such a massive public investment without leading to meaningful water quality improvements in the Shell Rock River. 

“The City takes its environmental obligations very seriously and has a long-standing commitment to improving water quality in the Shell Rock River,” Rasmussen said. “We are also serious about our obligation to spend our limited public resources wisely.”

The release stated the purpose of a contested case hearing is to provide the MPCA with additional information that will improve the final TMDL and ensure that any future investments made by the city are necessary and will result in meaningful improvements to the river.

“Our goal is to work collaboratively with MPCA and other stakeholders to develop solutions that will make progress on our shared goal of achieving cost-effective long-term water quality improvements in the Shell Rock River,” he said.

Wayne Cords, regional watershed manager for the MPCA, said Thursday while the MPCA had not yet received the city’s request, it recognizes the community’s commitment to clean up local lakes and the Shell Rock River.

“The MPCA is using sound science to determine the pollutant reductions needed for the river to improve,” Cords said.

The state agency will review the city’s request and other comments received when the public notice period ends next Friday to determine the next steps for the studies, including any changes to the TMDL.

The studies can be found at www.pca.state.mn.us/water/watersheds/shell-rock-river.