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Nisswa: Public hearing set for possible sewer system expansion

Echo Journal file photo.

Nisswa's sewer system is nearing capacity again, so the city council will hold a public hearing at its next monthly meeting - 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 20 - for the public to provide input on possible solutions.

A map will be available for people to see where sewer service is available in the city.

One solution offered at a city council work session Thursday, Feb. 28, was an estimated $3,975,400 expansion project to gain more sewer hookups. While the city would pursue grant opportunities for funding with a goal to minimize rate increases, residents and businesses on the city wastewater system likely would see rate hikes to help pay for an expansion.

In the example cited, rates could go up 9.25 percent each year for several years after an expansion was completed, possibly beginning in 2020.

The city is currently at 90 percent of its permitted capacity for sewer hookups with several projects that could affect wastewater system usage. Those include several housing developments that could take off; Grand View Lodge's new hotel, recreation center and cottages being built; the Nisswa Elementary School expansion project; a hair salon that is moving to a new building; and a bank that is opening where a restaurant closed more than 10 years ago.

Public Works Director Tom Blomer expects the city to near its hookup capacity by the end of this year. He said the city has added at least seven equivalent residential connections - or ERCs - per year since 2014, with an estimated 254-269 expected over the next 20 years. (One residential home uses roughly one ERC, while a restaurant may use 10 ERCs.)

"I think that's a conservative number. It will be higher," Blomer said.

To that end, city staff developed a 20-year plan to add 450 ERCs at the estimated nearly $4 million cost, proposed to be paid through general obligation sewer revenue bonds and rate increases.

Council member Don Jacobson offered an idea for discussion and public feedback, saying he didn't know whether he supported it. He said the council could consider only taking care of the wastewater system it currently has and not expanding it. Instead, future developments would have to have onsite sewer systems.

Mayor Fred Heidmann said the city will have to expand its sewer system, but to what extent?

Council member Gary Johnson asked what a smaller expansion would look like, and would it really be that much cheaper?

Council consensus was for staff to gather information outlining a smaller expansion - for around 250 ERCs.

Council member John Ryan said the city must think 10, 15 and 20 years down the road, but also not handicap future councils and the city. What people in the community want today may not be what the community wants in 20 years, he said, noting a good commercial development could come in and offer to add jobs, but wouldn't have the opportunity to hook up to city sewer.

"We don't want to handicap ourselves down the road by going too small," Ryan said, noting there also would be issues by going too big.