The Two Harbor City Council heard an update about the wastewater treatment facility project Monday, April 22. Environmental project engineer Brian Guldan addressed several aspects of the project, including a few concerns about the funding and a historic review.

The project so far

The plan calls for an estimated $18 million in improvements to the wastewater treatment facility to upgrade the biosolid handling process and fix design flaws in the mercury filtration system, as well as other upgrades to the 60-year-old treatment system.

In December, the council authorized Bolton and Menk to move forward with creation of plans and specifications that were to be submitted to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency by the end of March.

Questions about how the project would be funded have been raised since it was first proposed last May. The current plan of action is to pursue grant and loan funds from the Public Facilities Authority or from direct appropriations from the state's annual bonding bill before moving forward with the project.

The project would be funded partially by $3 million already earmarked in the city's reserves for facility updates, getting possibly $2 million to $3 million in grant money from the Water Infrastructure Fund from the Public Facilities Authority (PFA), the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board and direct appropriations. After the grants, the rest of the funding would likely come from monthly wastewater charge increases.

A few possible roadblocks

Guldan said the project's plans and specs were submitted to the MPCA on time and are currently under review.

"We met with them last Friday to go over the plans. We toured the wastewater treatment facility with them. As they go through their review we'll continue to have contact with them on questions and work toward that certification or approval by June 30," Guldan said.

Guldan also addressed the need to get special wetland permissions for a half-acre of land on the proposed construction site prior to construction. Guldan said it was a formality he believes will be worked out smoothly.

Another possible formality is a historic review of the site. As the project will use public funds, a historic review must be completed prior to construction.

"During that process, we were contacted by a band of Chippewa about historic research on that site. They've requested a phase one cultural resource investigation which amounts to fairly minor archaeological investigation into the site," Guldan said. "We have archaeologists on staff who will conduct this and look for historically relevant artifacts. If they find something that'll push us into a Phase 2, examination would become more extensive."

This process is expected to take place over the next few weeks once the frost is out of the ground. Guldan said he'd keep the council informed about the process.

Questions of funding came up again by the council. Councilor Cathy Erickson asked about the outlook for governmental funding for the project.

"Based on how the bonding money is looking for the PFA, I would guess that this project would not move forward if you need more than PFA funds this year," Guldan said. "If the bonding bill doesn't come through for direct appropriations, I don't think there will be enough money in the PFA. Because it's an off year, that bonding bill isn't going to be very big."

Guldan said if the money doesn't come through for the project this year, it could be placed on the PFA funding cycle for next year. If the money does come through, the project is expected to move into the bidding stage in July.