Taxes, fees likely to rise to pay for $67.4 million ALASD upgrade
Township supervisors interviewed by the Echo Press said they don't believe the Alexandria Lake Area Sanitary District has a choice in making improvements.
ALEXANDRIA — If the Alexandria area sewer treatment plant undergoes a proposed $67.4 expansion and upgrade, monthly sewer fees will likely rise, and so might property taxes in townships and cities in the service area.
How much residents will pay is uncertain. One number the Alexandria Area Sanitary District has offered the state is a fee range of $55 to $65 a month, up from the $37.10 they pay now. This would require annual 10% fee increases over the next four to five years, consultant Tracy Ekola said during a Feb. 8 public hearing in Alexandria.
ALASD customers currently finance the sewer system through user fees and property taxes. ALASD Executive Director Scott Gilbertson said both would likely rise to help finance the project, which officials said is necessary to meet tightening state and federal environmental requirements. He said the district hopes to receive grants to defray the cost, and that proposed legislation in the Minnesota Legislature would increase the grant award they could receive.
"That's really critical, that grant money, to stave off the expense for the township," said Dan New, a retired 3M engineer and a Hudson Township supervisor who attended the public hearing.
Still, even receiving $30 million in grants — which Gilbertson said is likely too optimistic — would leave ALASD needing to finance tens of millions of dollars.
ALASD serves the City of Alexandria, as well as Alexandria Township, Carlos Township, Hudson Township, Ida Township, LaGrand Township and Lake Mary Township. It also contracts with the City of Nelson, City of Forada, Leaf Valley Township, Miltona Township, Carlos State Park, and two state rest areas located along I-94.
Daniel Diedrich, an Ida Township supervisor, said the township currently pays roughly $100,000 each year to ALASD from property taxes. That amount is divided up among township residents who own property in the ALASD service area. He said that amount might increase, but he doubts it would double the way user fees might.
“That’s like saying gasoline is going to cost us $10 a gallon by 2029,” he said. “It don’t make any sense to predict something like that.”
The supervisors interviewed by the Echo Press said they don't believe ALASD has a choice in making improvements. The plant sends treated water into Lake Winona, which flows into Lakes Henry and Agnes. All three are polluted by nutrients and chloride, which can harm aquatic life and cause increased algae. Chloride is particularly difficult and costly to remove, and it is beyond ALASD's current capability to remove it. The plant is trying to reduce the amount of choride that enters its plant by encouraging residents to replace their water softeners with newer ones that use less salt. In addition, many parts of the plant are 45 years old.
“I don’t know that they’re going to have a lot of choice," said Max Radil, a supervisor from Lake Mary Township. "Permits come from the state and they’re the ones that set the standards that ALASD has to meet.”
The public has until Friday, Feb. 17 to comment on the project. Comments and responses will be included in a final facility plan report to be submitted to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. To comment, contact ALASD at 320-762-1135.