Oronoco weighs its wastewater treatment options

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By Karen Snyder

ORONOCO – Approximately 35 community members came to an April 9 public hearing to learn about plans for a potential wastewater treatment system for Oronoco.

Minnesota’s biggest little town with no municipal sewer service already has some of the requisite infrastructure in place. Joe Palen, city engineer, told the crowd the new subdivisions have systems that could someday connect to a municipal system. 

But most of Oronoco is served by individual septic systems, and three-fourths of those in the downtown area are believed to be non-compliant or obsolete.

Palen and project manager/wastewater engineer Tom Dye of Stantec Consulting offered three options for wastewater treatment: 

• Conveying wastewater to Rochester

• Conveying wastewater to Pine Island

• Building a wastewater treat-ment facility in Oronoco

Because the cost estimates span the period 2015-2035, population projections were a critical com-ponent of the planning, according to Palen. He said, “How much wastewater will we produce over the next 20 years?” In their figuring, the engineers used population forecasts made by Olmsted County. 

Rochester option

Costliest by far, the Rochester alternative would require four lift stations and seven miles of sewer mains to carry wastewater from Oronoco to Rochester. 

Rochester would charge Oro-noco users 50 percent more a month than the local customers pay. What’s more, Palen said, it’s typical of Rochester to raise its sewer rates seven percent a year.

The Rochester option price projection is $27,000,675.

That isn’t all. Rochester’s infor-mation “had quite a few caveats,” Dye said. The city, for example, is tentative about allowing for Oronoco population growth. Also, after 20 years Rochester could simply stop serving Oronoco. 

Pine Island option

The Pine Island alternative calls for installing four-and-a-half miles of sewer mains to convey waste-water to Pine Island. In 2018, when that city builds a new wastewater treatment plant, Oronoco would be responsible for 30 percent of the cost.

The estimate uses the current Pine Island connection charge and monthly rate and allows for two percent inflation. 

Th Pine Island option price projection is $15,960,000 

That’s based on the rate Pine Island residents pay. Oronoco, Palen said, might have to pay more. 

Oronoco option

This plan, in which Oronoco would build its own wastewater treatment facility, would require an approximately one-mile-long sewer main. The cost projection includes operation and main-tenance, chemicals, utilities, biosolids disposal, supplies, testing, and, in 2024-2025, an expansion of treatment capacity.

The Oronoco option price projection is $14,000,130. 

The advantages to this choice, said Palen and Dye, are lowest cost, flexibility for expansion, and local control.

The engineers have a site in mind. It is, they stressed, a tentative site, a four-acre parcel about a half-mile east of the new Cenex station, and they like it because it suits certain criteria. It’s in an unde-veloped area a quarter-mile away from existing buildings. And it’s next to a river and above the floodplain.

“It’s conceptual at this point,” Palen said. “We could go else-where.”  

A recommendation

The engineers’ recommendation to the city council is to submit the Oronoco plan to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and pursue grants and funding. 

There’s plenty of grant money available, said Dye. “We believe we’re eligible for some and think we have a very good chance. It’s not unrealistic to think we would be eligible for a 50 percent grant.”

 That would help enormously all around. For instance, with no grant funding, each connection to the Oronoco system would cost $13,000. A 50 percent grant would cut the charge to $4,000. 

Crowd members had questions. Most concerned sticker shock, others the threat to the environment. Someone asked if property values would be affected. “That,” said Palen, “is something to ask a Real-tor, not two engineers.

“This is an engineering plan and recommendation,” he emphasized, “not the city’s. The city can take the recommendation or leave it.”

He and Mayor Kevin McDer-mott urged those who want more input to attend Water and Sewer Commttee meetings. That comm-ittee meets at 6:30 p.m. the fourth Tuesday of every month at the community center.

“This is the first stage of the process,” McDermott said. “We understand it’s a huge project with the potential to impact a lot of people.”

The council planned for further discussion and possible action at its April 15 regular meeting.

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