READING — Two options are now at the forefront to provide the community of Reading with a long-sought sewer solution.

Options now include creating a pond system or regionalizing to Wilmont, Nobles County Environmental Services Manager Mark Koster told county commissioners during a Wednesday work session.

After thoroughly analyzing a multitude of options and grant opportunities, the best Reading could likely qualify through federal funding is a 45% grant/55% loan, said Wenck Associates Chief Strategy Officer Peter Miller. The state may fund up to $20,000 per connection, he added.

With an estimated $3.5 to $4 million project cost, those combined funding mechanisms may help finance around $2.5 million.

Finding the most economical solution for Reading’s 50-some households has long been a top priority of the project, which is why team members were disheartened when the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency axed its soil-based proposal. The MPCA said the discharge would exceed the 10,000-gallon nitrogen limit. The estimated cost for the soil-based solution was $1.9 million.

During Wednesday’s update to county commissioners, Koster said Nobles County Environmental Services had pursued a rural development grant through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That particular effort was also rejected, based on Reading’s residents exceeding the income requirements.

That’s where the project is left at a crossroads, Miller said.

“Are you going to tell the residents ‘Sorry, you’re going to put your own (system) in and good luck to you?’” he asked commissioners. “Or (tell them) ‘we’ll keep plowing through and find an alternative solution?’”

The residents of Reading are also at their own crossroads.

Al Madison, a Reading resident and community liaison for the project, said he has had multiple residents ask him whether they should build their own drainage field or continue to wait it out.

Madison called that a top concern that needs to be addressed.

“What happens in the future after this thing comes through — you force these people to hook up after they spend $10-$15,000 on their own personal drain field?” Madison asked. “Every day, every month that goes by, you could lose potential hookups.

“The sooner this gets built, obviously the better."

Commissioners also discussed the potential of pursuing state bonding money. Although the deadline to get on the legislature’s summer tour may be passed, Miller said it’s never too late to try.

County Commissioner Gene Metz asked if the county board agreeing to move forward hindered its chance at getting the legislature’s approval for state bonding funds.

“I’m never sure how it works with bonding — if they see we’re going to be doing it on our own, anyway,” he said.

Miller said the request could still be made, and encouraged the county and Reading residents to advocate for their project.

“It’s the 50 residents of Reading that need to really get (Minnesota legislators) energized,” Miller said.

Commissioner Justin Ahlers said he favors asking District 22 Sen. Bill Weber (R-Luverne) and District 22B Rep. Rod Hamilton (R-Mountain Lake) to pursue the state relaxing the soil-based nitrogen requirements.

“It’s 40% cheaper than the pond system,” Ahlers said. “That’s a lot of money.”

Commissioner Don Linssen didn’t disagree, but said he’s afraid all that would accomplish would be spending a lot of time and money for nothing.

“There’s people in a bad situation right now that are going to have to upgrade,” he said of Reading residents. “I would say if you’re going to fight the MPCA, you’re looking at five years down the road. You’re going to kick the can down the road and won’t gain anything.”

The next step to keeping the project moving forward is approval by the commissioners to create a preliminary engineering report. Despite one already being completed for the state, with frustration, Miller said that the federal government requires a separate application.

The commissioners are expected to further discuss and take possible action during their 9 a.m. Tuesday regular county board meeting.