Council approves $60M plan for improvements to city’s wastewater treatment plant

Published 6:49 am Tuesday, February 15, 2022

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The Albert Lea City Council on Monday approved a plan for $60 million in improvements to the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

The plan will next be submitted to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for review and approval, which will allow the project to be scored for potential funding at the state level.

The city is requesting $30 million in state bonding funds for the project and says the project could not move forward without it.

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Kris Swanson with engineering firm Bolton & Menk, which made the plan, said the treatment plant was built in 1981 and has significant needs because of aging infrastructure. It also is now required to meet new state limits on phosphorus pollution to the Shell Rock River.

Swanson said the facility planning process started in 2017, evaluating the needs and assets for the plant, and they developed the costs for rehabilitation in 2018.

He said they spent two or three years on permit negation with the state, considering alternatives for the project, including making no repairs and rehabilitating the existing site.

He said his firm recommends new preliminary treatment of grit removal that protects the entire facility from sand and reduces the wear on pumps. The rehabilitation of the liquid stream is needed to update for phosphorus removal and to comply with toxicity testing.

He also suggested changes to simplify the treatment and eliminate portions not needed, making the process more cost effective and efficient.

The plan calls for demolishing three buildings; adding several structures, including a new office and lab building; and replacing some piping and equipment.

The plant processes an average of 3.5 million gallons of wastewater every day from homes and businesses in Albert Lea and Manchester. Southeast of Albert Lea, the plant removes bacteria and other pollutants from the wastewater before discharging it to the Shell Rock River.

The state recently issued a new permit for the plant that requires an 85% reduction in phosphorus, a nutrient that grows algae, which can hinder recreation and hurt aquatic life like fish.

The upgrade will provide opportunities to accept waste from local industries that now haul it to other communities for processing, saving them money on fuel and other costs. The city will promote this service to businesses outside Albert Lea as well.

In addition to the above features, the upgraded plant will use less energy and add a solar array to offset the energy used.

In addition to the $30 million the city is seeking through state bonding funds, it is also applying for a separate state grant for $7 million.

Final design is expected to take approximately a year with construction expected to take between 30 and 36 months.

Swanson said the project could be a four- to five-year process even if funding comes through this year.

Rasmussen said the city has taken the project very seriously and is working closely with state representatives to lobby for the funding. He said he and Councilor Larry Baker will be going up to the Capitol at the beginning of March to lobby more.

Third Ward Councilor Jason Howland said he was disappointed the project was not included in Gov. Tim Walz’s initial bonding proposal and thanked local legislators for their support of the project.

“This is critically important for this community that we do get the funding for his,” Howland said.

In other action, the council:

• Accepted bids for the East Main Street rehabilitation and trail project, which involves a bituminous mill and overlay of the road from the split in East Main Street to Freeborn County Road 38, the road that goes to Myre-Big Island State Park, and the installation of a shared user trail along the south side of the road.

The project will tie into the proposed trail the Minnesota Department of Transportation is installing as part of its project on East Main and also includes stormwater improvements, including construction of a stormwater retention pond, storm sewer installation and drainage improvements.

The city received one bid for about $3.2 million from Ulland Brothers Inc. This was higher than the engineer’s estimate of $2.74 million because of bituminous craving price, stormwater jack and boring prices, City Manager Ian Rigg said.

City Engineer Steven Jahnke said 80% of this project will be paid for with state and federal funds, and 20% will be paid for by the city.

• Approved a cooperative construction agreement with MnDOT for the resurfacing and flood mitigation project on East Main Street from Newton Avenue to Interstate 35.

The project includes a bituminous mill and overlay, raising the road, construction of a shared user trail, storm sewer and other flood mitigation features, intersection improvements and replacement of city-owned watermain and flood mitigation efforts.

Of the total about $11 million project, the city will be responsible for about $3 million, with about $1.2 million of that being paid for with state bonding dollars, $1 million paid for in state aid funds and between $700,000 and $800,000 paid for with sewer and water funds.

The agreement also outlines that the city is responsible for maintaining the sidewalk and trails, replacing bulbs, paying for monthly electricity and providing minimum maintenance for the traffic signals.

• Ordered the improvement and preparation of plans for the bituminous mill and overlay and miscellaneous curb and gutter replacement of Hammer Road, from Bridge Avenue to Sorensen Road, and Richway Drive, from Bridge Avenue to Garfield Avenue.

The roads were constructed or resurfaced in the late 1990s and have not been overlaid since.

Rigg said there are nine properties along Hammer Road that are outside of city limits and cannot be assessed by the city until the properties are annexed in the future.

The council also briefly talked about costs to the large farm properties along Hammer Road.

Rigg said the city is recommending an appraiser for the large agricultural lots, as the city’s assessment policy is not designed for this type of property. It is likely these lots will have their assessments capped at a certain percentage of the property’s value.

The estimated project cost is about $788,000 and would be paid for with assessments, state-aid funds and some would be held for future assessments.

• Accepted bids and awarded the contract for the repair of the Jacobson Building, 211 S. Broadway, to Advanced Masonry Restoration.

The city received three base bids ranging from $301,500 from Advanced Masonry Restoration, $345,783 from Acme Tuckpointing and Restoration and $496,785 from American Masonry Restoration. The city also received unit pricing for additional repairs and replacement.

Rigg said it is estimated the project will be below $500,000 when adding in engineering, architects and the cost of repairing additional units.

The city had budgeted $600,000 for the repairs and has received a state grant for up to about $270,000. The grant requires a one-to-one match.

The building has cracks developing on mortar joints and terra cotta blocks that are cracking. A few have also fallen off of the structure.

The building is between the former Freeborn National Bank building on the north and Stadheim Jewelers on the south.

Rasmussen thanked staff for obtaining the grant funds for the project.

• Approved a resolution designating property owned by Todd and Julie Ulve off of West Richway Drive in need of orderly annexation. The owners requested to connect to city sewer and water, which were installed in 1998. The property was zoned as a single-family residence district.

• Approved the replacement of a truck hoist for the street department for about $21,000. The old unit will be auctioned as surplus equipment.

• Approved an agreement with Mosquito Control of Iowa for weekly treatment of residential and park spaces for mosquitos and other flying insects, with special treatments for Fountain Lake Park and the Freeborn County Fairgrounds.

The city will pay $26,500 each year for the work.

• Called a public hearing for 7 p.m. March 14 for the 209th Street bituminous paving and Happy Trails overlay project.

• Approved purchase of structural firefighter turnout gear for Albert Lea Fire Rescue. The city has budgeted $65,000.

• Accepted a $200 donation for Jensen Excavating & Trucking LLC for an emergency rescue vehicle through the South Central Drug Investigation Unit Special Weapons and Tactics Team.