Scandia has options for Big Marine sewer system

Decision on variance will require full city council

Mary Bailey
Scandia Reporter

Even if no one else is allowed to connect to the Anderson/Erickson sewer system, it needs work done.

At their Tuesday, March 13 work session, the Scandia City Council received the final report from the city’s engineering firm on the Anderson/Erickson 201 sewer system that serves houses on the east side of Big Marine Lake.

The engineer concluded that the system is already overloaded. He does not recommend additional connections unless the system is upgraded or replaced.

The study was done because of a request for hook-ups. While applying for a variance to build a new house on two small lots, Jim and Sandy Continenza asked for sewer connections for their new house and also for the one next door where Jim’s mother lives.

The variance request was put on hold until the council could determine whether the sewer system has adequate capacity. It’s still on hold: The council concluded on March 13 that more information is needed.

Both City Engineer Ryan Goodman of Stantec and the geologist who wrote the report, Clinton Jordahl of Stantec Consulting Services, attended the meeting. Jim Continenza and his attorney, Joseph Christensen, were also there.

The system was built in 1987 to serve 21 houses. It was designed with three drain field cells, so that each year two would be in use and one resting.

Now the system serves 30 houses, and only one cell is being used each year.  Peak flows during the summer are above the stated system capacity.

One pump has no working run-time meter.  And according to Christensen, flow rates are overstated because of a broken drain-back valve. “You probably have more capacity than you think,” he said.

Jordahl agreed that stated flow rates are high. “Collecting better data would give you a better handle on your flows. You need to know how much drains back into the tank,” he said.

In addition, some residents may be feeding rain water into the system. Council member Jim Schneider said just one or two sump pumps add thousands of gallons of water. The report suggested the city may need to start a sump pump inspection program.

City Administrator Anne Hurlburt said the ordinance is in place, but there is no enforcement. “People reconnect them after we leave,” she said, because they get tired of the wet spot in their yard.

And even though the drain field does not appear to be failing (there’s no standing water), it’s not clear whether the wastewater is adequately treated. “Soil saturation seems likely and treatment is in question,” the engineering report stated.

“In order to have soil treatment, you have to have dry soil most of the time,” Jordahl explained. Inadequate treatment would degrade ground water quality in the area, he said.

“Just because water is going away doesn’t mean you’re treating sewage,” he added.

To check, monitoring wells need to be cleaned and the well water sampled for nitrates or ammonia.

4 Options

The engineer’s report gave four options.

The cheapest calls for replacing a run-time meter at about $500 and investigating repair of the dosing valves. Clearing out iron and biological growth from the wells so that sampling can begin would cost about $5,000.

Adding a small mound to the existing property might increase the capacity by 1,200 gallons per day and cost about $100,000. This option would address the problem of overloading in summer months.

Adding pretreatment with the existing drain field might cost $300,000 to $700,000, depending on whether nitrogen reduction is required. This would accommodate 45 year-round connections, the number needed for potential new homes and cabin conversions.

Buying more land for a new drain field might cost $500,000, plus $30,000 to upgrade the monitoring well network. If nitrogen pretreatment is required, this adds about $250,000 in equipment costs. Land cost was assumed to be $10,000 to $15,000 per acre.

Jordahl said the area has good soil. “The whole area is sandy,” he said. “That’s why that trench system isn’t failing.”

Christensen recommended letting the Continenzas connect two houses now, using their fees to help pay the costs of maintenance and repair. “Take a realistic look at tuning up what you’ve got,” he said. “Do the fixes and you might not need the mound.”

The city has reserve funds to do repairs.

Adding a small mound at $100,000, Christensen said, could be financed over 20 years and would cost 32 homeowners about $21 per month.

The Stantec report also recommended increasing the current hook-up fee of $4,250 and monthly fee of $55. “It seems reasonable that both new and current users pay for the actual value of the system,” the report said.

Council Response

Schneider said he is in favor of adding two more connections.  “We’re dragging our feet too long,” he said.

He also thought the city should go door-to-door and see where water from sump pumps is going.

Council member Chris Ness, a user of the city’s 201 sewer system, said: “I’m incredibly depressed when I look at the cost. I’d love to see everybody hooked up,” he added, but would not vote to connect a 7,500 square feet house up that isn’t built. He said he would let Continenza’s mother hook up.

Mayor Randall Simonson said the system has been neglected and has issues that need to be resolved. “The city has been paying the county for a long time and not receiving very good service,” he added.

“The problem has been going on for years and the city can’t continue to ignore it. We don’t want wastewater going into our lakes,” the mayor concluded. Simonson said he wants a full council present to decide on the Continenza variance.

Council members Connie Amos and Sally Swanson were absent on March 13.

Jim Continenza, who gave the city extra time to respond to his variance request in order to address the sewer issue and also offered to pay a higher connection fee, expressed some frustration. “So what century do I build my house?” he asked.

When asked about the amount of waste his large house would generate, he pointed out that he owns three other homes, which would lower the use in this house.

His family has been here since the 1960s, he said, and he has no intention of selling the house after it is built. “I’m not the person who neglected the system,” he said. “If we didn’t bring it up, what would have happened?” he asked.

The council planned to continue the discussion on the sewer system on March 20, with an action plan to get meters installed, wells purged and sampling done.  The variance issue will be on the agenda at a later meeting.

Accessory Buildings

The council referred to the planning commission a proposal to amend zoning regulations on the size of accessory structures.

The bigger the lot, the more outbuildings are allowed. Lots up to three acres can have one building in addition to the house, and lots between three and 20 acres can have two. On lots over 20 acres, Scandia does not limit the number of farm buildings.

But the total square footage is limited on lots up to 80 acres. Only a farm with more than 80 acres can have unlimited barns and sheds, of any size.

Scandia farmer Roger Thomasen told the council that Scandia is creating a hardship for farmers by restricting the size of farm buildings on less than 80 acres.  Thomasen, who farms about 350 acres, plans to put up an agricultural building for machinery storage on his 40 acres on Oren Road.

Thomasen showed zoning regulations from Columbus, May Township, Hugo, Lino Lakes and Forest Lake. All five allow unlimited square footage on lots over 20 acres.

Mayor Simonson said, “Scandia has prided itself for years as being a rural community, supporting farms. Just because that’s the way it was for many years doesn’t mean it’s the correct thing today.”

The three council members present, Simonson, Ness and Schneider, voted to have the commission consider changing the number of acres from 80 to 30. The planning commission will conduct a public hearing on this topic 7 p.m., May 1.

Maintenance Chief

In a second attempt to hire a maintenance supervisor, the Scandia City Council received 20 new applications.  In addition, 25 from the first search said they wish to be considered.

Scandia has two full-time maintenance workers responsible for 70 miles of city roads. The new superintendent is expected to take a leadership role in managing the sewer systems serving the downtown area and lake residences.

The council plans to interview their top choices in April.