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
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
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
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.