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The project for a new water treatment plant is gaining momentum in the city | News

During a raging rainstorm on the night of April 4, approvals from Northfield City Council flowed fast and furiously.

Justin Wagner, Director of Utilities for the City of Northfield and Seth Peterson, Senior Environmental Engineer for Bolton & Menk, Inc., presented more evidence on why the drinking water treatment plant project should progress. Council members heard the couple discuss how reverse osmosis gravity filtration would remove the manganese found in Northfield’s drinking water.

The city’s engineering staff is proposing a new $33.5 million water treatment plant, but hopes to see that cost to the city reduced through grants.

Benefits of building the new water treatment plant include eliminating hard water that often leaves a scaly ring around one facet, saving residents money without paying for a water softener and ultimately residents would use less water, approximately 2,500 to 4,000 gallons of water per year.

“Also, by eliminating the chloride, we would future-proof our system,” Wagner said.

Of the three sites proposed for the new plant, feedback from residents recommends limiting the choice to two: Hall Avenue and south of Maple Street.

This would eliminate the third site, which is south of Spring Creek Elementary, primarily because the cons outweigh the pros on city-owned property near the high school’s heavily used athletic fields.

According to the survey results, the Spring Creek site was found to be the least preferable with a negative rating of 64%. The most preferred site, with 61%, was Hall Street.

While usage rates would increase 28.5% over the next four years, from $14.70 this year to $40.09 in 2026, Wagner said they are seeking federal funds to reduce costs. for users. He referenced a chart comparing Northfield to comparable towns, which showed that Faribault, St. Peter and Mankato, all towns with higher filtration rates, had water costs around $40 per month.

Wagner reported that the two open houses held virtually on February 24 and in person on March 3 were successful, as was the survey with 127 total responses and comments included in the study appendix.

Three stages of action remain: The council passes the study of the water system; the city is moving forward in negotiations with landowners; and engineers start designing layouts and renders, he said.

Councilor Suzie Nakasian asked about the timeline for the project. Wagner responded that the next step would be to apply for a grant, specifically the request to fund 75% of the cost, leaving the cost at around $8 million.

“We don’t have a timeline on that,” Peterson said. “Typical bonding cycles end in May, but the manganese phase-out grant could arrive before September.”

Councilor Nakasian said, “Sounds like you would like to go ahead without the grant funds?” To which Wagner replied “Yes, that is our intention.”

Mayor Rhonda Pownell asked about building similar facilities. Wagner responded that the Minnesota Department of Health has a new grant to phase out manganese.

“They love the Northfield project and they’re willing to give the city money with the highest manganese levels, which we think is good,” he said.

Councilor Nakasian asked if Northfield gets this subsidy, would it impact the price structure? Wagner said the city will update the utilization rate.

Councilor Jami Reister asked if the couple could review the health update for Northfield families. Wagner explained that the manganese found in infants 1 year and younger could potentially cause HDHD or ADD. He said high levels of manganese were also not recommended for pregnant women or to be mixed with formula.

Councilor Jessica Peterson White asked if home filter systems can remove all nitrates. Wagner said the levels should be tested.

“Landlords would have the option to do that, but not tenants,” she said.

Councilor George Zuccolotto asked if the new system would ban nitrates from our drinking water. Wagner said yes, noting that nitrates, PFAS and other emerging contaminants would be blocked.

Mayor Pownell asked if the Northfield Utility service had contacted other partners, such as Rice County Public Health or Northfield Hospital + Clinic. Wagner said he would do it this week.

Councilman Brad Ness asked how many gallons were in a cubic foot, to which Wagner immediately replied, “7.48.” Everyone laughed, acknowledging the engineer’s expertise.

Peterson White, Nakasian and Reister all praised the water engineers for their work on an issue so important to all residents of the city.

“I see this as a matter of environmental justice to make sure we all have clean drinking water,” Peterson White said.

“It’s a sign for consumers that clean water can help households conserve water,” Nakasian said. “It was instructive for all of us.”

“Even if the price is huge, it’s a matter of health and fairness,” Reister said. “I’m optimistic that we can find grants, not just for the end product, but for the grant money to flow – no pun intended – to be better for the environment and for residents.”

“I am encouraged by the comments coming from around the table,” said Mayor Pownell.

The resolution was adopted unanimously.

Spending American Rescue Act funds

Brenda Angelstad, chief financial officer, said Northfield received $1.3 million from the American Rescue Act last year and will likely receive the same amount this year. The city can choose how to spend the money, she said.

Councilor Ness moved to approve a resolution to accept the funds, and Councilor Reister seconded. The motion was carried.

In a separate motion, Angelstad listed items the ARA’s advisory board recommended spending on, including funds for K95 face masks, signage protection, Spanish interpreter salary and putting up-to-date interior of City Hall.

“That still leaves 50% of the funds unspent,” she said.

The proposal before the board was to apply those remaining funds toward contract approval for Enterprise Resource Planning, which would upgrade the old system for city procedures.

Councilor Reister asked if residents would see an upgrade with more efficient systems. Angelstad responded that reporting would be improved, especially for the Community Development Department.

“Anyone applying for and paying for a permit, which is not a patchwork system, would see an improved method,” she said.

City administrator Ben Martig said the improved system was long overdue.

“When I arrived here in 2016, our accounting system seemed to be lacking,” he said. “We would have handled COVID better if we had this new system in place.”

The board passed the motion to approve funding to modernize financial planning systems.

Martig delivered his administrative update announcing that the internet outage on Tuesday April 5 was caused by Charter removing trees in Castle Rock. The internet outage stretched from mid-morning until around 5 p.m. before engineers were able to bring the system back online.

Martig said the April 19 agenda will involve the next steps for the Kraewood development project and the rezoning of Rice County.