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Lakefield wastewater ponds tabled for now

JACKSON -- More than 50 people gathered Wednesday night for the second meeting of the Jackson County Planning Commission regarding a proposed wastewater stabilization pond project for the city of Lakefield.

JACKSON - More than 50 people gathered Wednesday night for the second meeting of the Jackson County Planning Commission regarding a proposed wastewater stabilization pond project for the city of Lakefield.
Rural residents near the proposed site are concerned about how the ponds will affect their property values, living conditions and environment. The matter was ultimately tabled until April.
According to a staff report on the project, Lakefield has applied for a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) to construct a wastewater stabilization pond system on roughly 90 acres of farmland located in Section 18 of Hunter Township. The land is currently owned by the Ruth Rensink Revocable Trust, and will be purchased by the city if the CUP is approved and all permits for the site are secured.
The proposed pond system would consist of two primary treatment cells that are 12.03 acres each, an intermediate cell that is 12.03 acres and two secondary treatment cells of 13.07 acres each. The ponds would cover roughly 62 acres. The project also includes around 29,000 feet of force main from Lakefield to the proposed locale.

History
The pond issue really began five years ago, according to Lakefield City Clerk Kelly Rasche. She said the city receives a renewed discharge permit every five years for its wastewater treatment facility. In 2010, Rasche said the city was informed that in order to receive a permit in 2015, the city would need to lower its phosphorous discharge level to meet a .4 mg/L requirement.
Currently, the city operates a mechanical plant. Rasche said the Lakefield plant is the only mechanical plant in Jackson County and one of a few in Minnesota. Due to the rising costs of upkeep many cities have switched over to stabilization ponds.
Improvements were made to the plant in Lakefield to meet the new phosphorous requirement, but the plant will need further improvement and then be remodeled every 20-25 years. Cost of the necessary renovations is estimated at $5 million. 
On the other hand, new ponds will cost $10 million. While the ponds, on the surface, pose a larger expense, Rasche said the city currently spends $200,000 annually to run the treatment plant, and ponds would lower that expense to $50,000. Likewise, ponds would only require improvements every 40 years or more. 
When the city submitted an application to Rural Development based on renovating the mechanical plant, Rasche said, it was kicked back to the city. The agency told the city to look into ponds. 

Criteria to be met

For each CUP requested, the same criteria must be met. The Planning Commission establishes Findings of Fact, which are then passed on to the Jackson County Board for final approval.
Criteria include:
* Has it been determined that its use will not create an excessive burden or hazard on existing parks, schools, streets and other public facilities and utilities which serve or are proposed to serve the area?
* Will the use and appearance of the site be sufficiently compatible or separated by distance or screening from agricultural or residentially zoned or used land so that existing homes and adjacent residential properties will not be depreciated in value or adversely affected and there will be no deterrence to development of vacant land?
* Has it been determined that the proposed use will not have a detrimental environmental affect?
* Has it been determined that business or advertising signs will not be visible to adjacent dwellings?
* Is the use, in the opinion of the Planning Commission, reasonably related to the overall needs of the county, the existing land use and the County Comprehensive Land Use Plan?
* Is the use consistent with the purposes of the zoning code and the purposes of the zoning district in which the applicant intends to locate the proposed use?
* Has it been determined the use will not cause a traffic hazard or congestion?
* Has it been determined that existing businesses nearby will not be adversely affected because curtailment of customer trade brought about by intrusion of noise, glare or general unsightliness?

Concerns raised

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At Wednesday’s meeting, the commission began to review the criteria list and stopped at the second item. After a lengthy comment session from residents and Dennis Johnson of Wenck and Associates - who has been retained by the city for the project - one answer remained unclear: will the adjacent properties be depreciated in value or adversely affected?
With the inability for the commission to answer that question without further information from the city, the matter was tabled until April.
Rasche said the city hopes to have the ponds operational within three years. If the site is not approved by the commission, the city is left with three options - wait six months and apply for a CUP again, work on finding another site where residents will likely have the same concerns, or repair the plant now and let a future council and residents take up the matter in 20 years.
Even if the CUP is approved, the site is not a certainty. Soil borings will need to be taken as part of an Environmental Assessment Worksheet. If the soil is not compatible with hosting a stabilization pond, the city will have to start over at square one.
Residents questioned why the boring cannot be done now and potentially eliminate the site from consideration. A soil boring will cost the city around $40,000-$50,000. The city wants to wait until the CUP is approved before investing the money into the proposed site.
Another concern raised is flooding. Rural residents reported the area downhill from the proposed ponds sees flooding during large rain events. The ponds will need to be discharged twice a year by the city.
Residents questioned if the city were to discharge on days where flooding was already present, how the additional water levels would affect their properties. Rasche said the city has a 60-day window in which to discharge the wastewater. She added that it is unlikely the city would consider discharging on a day when flooding conditions existed.

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