3 lake wells in Scandia exceed nitrogen limits

Mary Bailey
Scandia Reporter

Three of the four monitoring wells at the Anderson/Erickson sewer system have nitrogen levels above the Minnesota Department of Health limits for drinking water, indicating inadequate treatment of wastewater.

This latest piece of information about the health of the 201 system serving the east side of Big Marine Lake was presented at the April 17 Scandia City Council meeting. The water samples were tested on March 22.

Elevated levels of chlorides were also present in the three wells. The fourth well, located in a spot that is probably up-gradient from (not influenced by) the ground water flow, had much lower levels of both nitrogen and chloride.

Nitrogen in drinking water is of concern because of potential harm to infants, as it can cause methemoglobinemia (“blue baby syndrome”). The Health Risk Limit for nitrate in drinking water is 10 milligrams per liter.  In the up-gradient well, nitrates plus nitrites measured 1.4 mg/L. Readings from the other three wells were 12.9, 16.2, and 19.6 mg/L.

Chloride is a general water quality parameter whose presence can be used to track impacts to shallow aquifers from wastewater systems. There is no drinking water limit, but the aesthetic limit is 250 milligrams per liter. The up-gradient well tested at 7.7 mg/L.  The other three wells had readings of 377, 415, and 493 mg/L.

The geologist who wrote the report recommended that the well water tests be repeated in July, during the period of heavy use of the septic system, to check for errors in testing.

City staff members are working with Washington County, which regulates the system, to plan the next steps.  The council will take up this issue again on May 8.

The monitoring wells are used only to test the effectiveness of the sewer system, not for drinking water. But private wells used by nearby residents may draw from the same water source.  The drain field is located between Olinda Trail and Big Marine Lake, south of 185th Street.

County officials may identify some private wells to be tested. “Our highest priority is to make sure we don’t have contaminated private wells putting people at risk,” City Administrator Anne Hurlburt said.

The Washington County Public Health Department recommends that residents with private wells get their water tested annually and offers a basic test for drinking quality for $44.

Hiring

The council voted unanimously to offer the maintenance superintendent job to Tim Kieffer, a public works employee for the city of Hugo. The offer includes a starting salary of $60,500, with paid time off accrued at the five-to nine-year step, about 24 days per year. If he accepts, the tentative start date is May 14.

In a split vote, the council approved an agreement with Springsted, Inc. to help the city find a new administrator to replace Hurlburt, who will retire in October.  The cost will be $7,800 plus about $500 in out-of-pocket expenses. Mayor Randall Simonson, Chris Ness and Sally Swanson voted yes. Connie Amos and Jim Schneider were opposed.

Compost Site

Residents of Forest Lake, Hugo and Marine on St. Croix can take leaves to municipal compost sites in the fall and pick up finished compost for their gardens in the spring. These sites are open only to residents of those cities.

Scandia does not offer a composting program, and the sites open to all Washington County residents (which are not owned or operated by the county) are located miles away in Bayport, Cottage Grove, Stillwater and Woodbury.

Beryl Halldorson, who lives on Melanie Trail near Bone Lake, would like to change that. In an e-mail to the city, she called Bone lake “a jewel in the city of Scandia,” but pointed out that it is on the impaired list because of too much phosphorus.

At the suggestion of Swanson, the council referred the request to the park and recreation committee.

Finding a city-owned parcel big enough to accommodate composting, finding staff time to do the work, and dealing with illegal dumping are issues.

Continenza Letter

As promised, Attorney Joseph Christensen has written a letter to the city on behalf of Jim and Sandi Continenza regarding their variance application to build a house on two lots on Big Marine Lake.

The Continenzas’ request for two hook-ups to the Anderson/Erickson 201 sewer, for them and for a relative next door, led to the city’s investigation into that system. The Continenzas chose not to build a private septic system on their land, and their variance application is on hold.

In the letter, Christensen says the Continenzas believe they have fallen victim to a “historical pattern of neglect” in maintaining and operating the Anderson/Erickson system. He says the city has billed them for legal and engineering expenses, most of which actually relate to the neglect.

The letter asks for five things from the city. The council approved a response written by Hurlburt, and reviewed by the city attorney, that addresses each one.

To the first, that the council revisit the Continenza’s request for sewer connections in July or August, Hurlburt responded that a report will probably be available by the September 18 council meeting.

Second, Christensen asked that the city keep him informed of all Anderson/Erickson developments. In her letter Hurlburt agreed. “He’s been getting every report at the same time as the council,” she said.

Third, Christensen asked that the Continenzas not be charged for expenses incurred by the city in analyzing the sewer system. In her letter Hurlburt said the Continenzas have not been charged for any engineering work done as a result of their request to connect.

“None of the Stantec work has been billed to them,” she said. “The charges are all justified to get the variance application in front of the council.  They offered once to pay for some of the sewer studies, but they have not been charged.”

The fourth item asked that, when the council determines their connection fee, the city take into account the significant expenditures the Continenzas have incurred in connection with their request to connect.  The connection fee is set by ordinance, Hurlburt said, and the ordinance does not allow a discount for any reason.

The fifth request was for extra time, after the variance and sewer connections are approved, so that the variance does not expire in one year. “The code allows us to do that,” Hurlburt said.

Reports

The council accepted a pledge from the Wojtowicz family for stucco patching and painting the ice rink warming house, valued at $2,300. The work is scheduled to be done by June 1, with help from park committee members. The city will waive the rental fee for the family’s June 17 birthday party and scholarship winner announcement.

Building Inspector Keith Wille reported that four permits were issued in March, for work valued at $37,450.

Sheriff Bill Hutton was on hand to discuss the successful CodeRed alert that resulted in an arrest for burglary. Code Red, a mass communication system automatically sends telephone messages, e-mails, and text messages to persons in the area of concern.

City Engineer Ryan Goodman of Stantec recommended three additional streets for 2012 seal coating, depending on bid results. If bids come in low enough, the portion of these streets located west of Maxwill Avenue will be added:  205th Street, Lakamaga Trail and 196th Street. The council authorized Goodman to prepare specifications for 2012 road repair.

Other Business

•The council approved an updated professional services agreement with Stantec, Inc. for engineering services. The previous agreement was from 1997.

•The council approved an agreement with the Girl Scouts of Minnesota and Wisconsin River Valleys for this summer’s recreation programs at Camp Lakamaga.

•The city corrected an error in the list of residents who had not paid 201 sewer fees in 2011. Leo Mueller was listed as owing $530 for his property at 18965 Langly Avenue as of October 15.  Actually, in January of 2011 Mueller prepaid his sewer bills for the entire year (four quarters), but his account was not credited.

•Final payment for the 2011 Mayberry Drainage Improvement Project was approved.

Meetings

Melanie Trail residents are invited to attend a capital improvement program meeting on May 22 to discuss options for repairing or improving their street. Other CIP meetings are scheduled May 29 and June 18, all at 7 p.m.

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