Opposition prompts public meeting on joint sewer plant

While the cities of Maple Lake and Annandale are continuing with the process to construct a joint Wastewater Treatment facility, opponents of the project have been making themselves heard.

Because of the controversy, the two cities have set an informational meeting on the proposed joint sewer project for Tuesday, April 22, at 7 p.m. in the Maple Lake High School cafeteria.

Maple Lake and Annandale have been working together on plans for the $9.275 million plant since last summer, but opposition didn’t materialize until a location for the facility was selected in February. A committee of city representatives, which included council member Judith Kelly and Mayor Mike Messina of Maple Lake, and Mayor Sam Harmoning and council member Jim Latour of Annandale, selected as the site for the plant a 15-acre parcel located in the southwest corner of the intersection of County Roads 7 and 105 in Albion Township about four miles south of Maple Lake.

In February, a joint meeting of the Maple Lake and Annandale city councils produced a crowd of Albion Township residents who questioned city officials and project engineer Brad DeWolf of Bolton and Menk, Inc. about possible pollution and the fear that water discharge from the plant would overtax drainage in an area which suffered severe flooding last summer. There have also been concerns expressed from a group of Maple Lake residents about the costs associated with the project. That group is working on an independent study of sewer plant plans that will be brought back to the Maple Lake City Council.

Since February, opposition to the location of the plant has been organizing and a website devoted to the issue is now up and running at www.noalbionsewage.com.  The website was created by Albion Township resident Dan Nordstrom, a commercial photographer who set up the site as a means of contributing to the opposition organization. “I’m just a self-taught guy who muddles his way through the computer,” he laughed.

The site that Nordstrom created features a fact page, a list of questions residents would like to have answered, a call for letters to local newspapers and attendance at public meetings, and contact information for government officials.

Nordstrom credited Brenda Pilger and Tami Higgins, two Albion Township residents who live in the plant site area, for the website content.

“They did a lot of ground work for the site,” he said. “I just felt it was easier to distribute information this way rather than neighbor to neighbor.”

And Nordstrom said those neighbors are united on this issue.  “We live in the country and there’s a reason we live in the country,” he said. “And we don’t even get to use this facility.  “There are a lot of unanswered questions here and things are moving very fast.”

Brenda Pilger is among those asking the questions and is also helping to coordinate a petition to stop the project that currently has about 75 signatures.  “A lot of issues are not being addressed,” Pilger said. “I’ve talked to lawyers, consultants and engineers and no one can tell me why they want to build their plant way out here.”

Pilger said the biggest issue is the volume of water from the plant that will be discharged into wetlands on a route to the Crow River. DeWolf said at the joint meeting that the expected 450,000 gallons of water discharged from the plant each day would not result in flooding. “It’ll handle the flow without adversely affecting your farmlands,” he said, also noting that he is working with the DNR on drainage for the plant and all operations will adhere to DNR restrictions.

But Pilger disagrees. “I’ve lived here 16 years and County Road 35 goes under quite often.”

Maple Lake Mayor Mike Messina said the facts support the contention of the engineers that the water volume from the plant will not adversely affect the area.  “The amount of water we’re going to be discharging into that whole drainage area is going to be less than 5% at peak flows,” Messina said, “and that would be in the case of a 100-year rain. Normal flows would be less than 1%. It’s insignificant. It’s nothing.”

Pilger said another big issue is one of zoning in Albion Township.  “Albion Ridges is one of the nicest golf courses around,” she said. “We have to be careful how things are developed out here. I can’t even see the county liking the idea of that plant coming so far out and so close to the golf course.”

She said questions should be asked about the site selection process and what other sites were considered, along with the logic of building a wastewater treatment plant so far away from the cities it’s serving.  “We looked at several sites out there,” Messina said. “From a financial standpoint, cooperative venture and just due diligence, it’s a location that is fairly close to halfway between both cities and a discharge point.”

Linda Decker, a resident of Middleville Township, said residents in that township are forming their own opposition group, which is a task she hopes won’t have to be repeated. “When this particular project is put to bed, let’s all get together to create a comprehensive plan so that nobody ever has to go through what we’ve had to go through.”

She also challenged area residents to propose positive solutions for the sewer plant dilemma. “Who knows of an alternative plan for these cities?” she said, suggesting that ideas could be sent to newspapers in the form of letters to the editors.

Messina said the informational meeting on April 22 will also give residents the means to communicate their thoughts and get answers.  “The meeting on the 22nd was the idea of DeWolf to get information out to Albion Township residents and others who have questions, comments and concerns.  “I hope we will be able to put some of this to rest,” he said. “We can layer some facts on some of the questions.”

He said Albion township residents have also expressed concerns about the effect the plant will have on property values.  “Questions like that, we will hopefully be able to answer for them and put them at ease a little bit.”