The Two Harbors City Council approved city engineering firm, Bolton and Menk, to begin the preliminary design engineering for the water treatment facility and water main improvements for $219,000 at their regular meeting on Monday, Aug. 26.

In order to qualify for potential Water Infrastructure Financing (WIF) grants, the city needs to have its two water system projects considered shovel ready and submitted to the Minnesota Department of Health by February 2020. WIF grants allow for up to 80% of the project cost, which in this case would add up to approximately $5 million.

The two water system projects consist of improvements to the water treatment facility and to the water main.

The water treatment facility improvements include the replacement of the chlorine contact tank and building repairs. The building was constructed in 1956 and is reported to have leaked for years. The estimated cost for the project is between $2.7-4 million.

The water main improvements consist of several water main looping and replacement projects outlined as issues to be addressed in the future Capital Improvement Project (CIP) plans. Brian Guldan, of Bolton and Menk, recommended grouping the projects into one large water main improvement project in order to save costs and potentially receive greater grant funding. The cost for this larger project is estimated to be between $2.2-3.3 million.

The projects wouldn't be guaranteed the funding, as projects are scored on a project priority list based on affordability. However, if the projects aren't picked for funding via WIF grants in 2020, the engineering work completed will still be able to be used, the work scaled back for affordability purposes.

"The reason the finance committee unanimously recommended moving forward was that these were items that would be done in the future regardless," said councilor Cathy Erickson. "They're things that are underground, so if they were included in a streets and alleys project, they'd be at the city's cost, anyway. So for us to be shovel ready and have the ability to collect up to $5 million, made it seem like, either way, we’d be paying this $219,000 eventually."

However, Erickson also noted that she would understand the council's hesitation for the project as the city is already pursuing WIF funds for the wastewater treatment plant improvements.

"That was something that made me pause," Erickson said. "But WIF has two different tracts, one for wastewater, one for water projects. This doesn't ruin our chances for the wastewater project to be funded."

The council voted unanimously to approve the creation of the preliminary design for the two projects.