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Great Lakes Article:

Sewer bills may rise to protect lake
ENVIRONMENT:Much of a 3.2 percent increase in WLSSD fees will be spent on preventing sewage overflows.
By John Myers
Duluth News Tribue
Published October 20th, 2004


It's going to cost many of us more money to keep Lake Superior cleaner.

The fees charged to cities and businesses to treat their sewage at the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District plant in Duluth will go up 3.7 percent on average in 2005 after the WLSSD board this week set the agency's budget for the coming year.

That increase will mean higher monthly sewage bills for many homeowners and businesses, although the exact increase varies from city to city and business to business depending on the strength and volume of sewage.

For example, Cloquet will be charged 8.2 percent more next year from this year while Duluth will see a 2.8 percent hike and Carlton will see almost no change.

If the cities, as usual, pass on all of the increase to consumers, homeowners could expect to see about a $1 per month increase in their sewage treatment bill. Duluth homeowners may see a smaller increase because of credits the WLSSD is giving the city for less-than-expected 2004 sewage use.

Much of the increase will help pay for improvements designed to prevent the kind of major sewage overflows and spills that sent millions of gallons of untreated effluent into the environment in 2003 and which continue to plague the WLSSD system during heavy rain.

Dick Holt, WLSSD board chairman, said the increases were unavoidable after sewage rates remained mostly flat for several years.

Kurt Soderberg, WLSSD executive director, said the budget hike is spurred by increased debt, rising medical costs for employees and increased staff to keep the district's pipes, pumps and treatment plant operating.

New WLSSD staff planned for 2005 include a mechanic, one maintenance electrician and two operators. WLSSD will see an additional $650,000 in debt payment obligations with the scheduled improvements to the plant, major sewage lines and pump stations and another $400,000 annually for new generators to keep pump stations operating should electricity shut off.

In all, improvements costing more than $74 million are planned over 10 years to upgrade the system. The city of Duluth also plans millions of dollars of additional sewer system upgrades. City officials say that their share of water and sewer bills also will increase.

"Clearly, the budget increase is directly related to the problems we had in 2003 and the effort to prevent those from happening again," Soderberg said, noting that includes the planned improvements submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency to satisfy federal demands that sewage spills no longer pollute Lake Superior.

The EPA is expected to decide within months if the WLSSD and city plans are acceptable to stop the pollution or if more upgrades and additional spending will be required.

Meanwhile, there's better news on the WLSSD's garbage collection front. The district won't increase its solid-waste management fee charged to garbage collectors and passed on to consumers and businesses. The cost for garbage haulers to dump trash at the WLSSD also will not rise in 2005. The WLSSD's portion of local property tax also will remain stable at $12 per home per year.

WLSSD officials warned of probable higher garbage fees in 2006, however, because of higher fees at the Sarona, Wis., landfill that takes Duluth-area trash, and because recycling programs' costs have risen.

Rates for disposal or recycling at WLSSD's Materials Recovery Center, at the former Rice Lake Landfill site, will remain the same.

 

 

 



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