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Great Lakes Article:

Council overhauls inflow program
By Baird Helgeson
Duluth News Tribune

Duluth has a new sump pump program that includes mandatory home inspections and fines for property owners who don't fix overflow problems.

Duluth city councilors on Monday night unanimously approved changes aimed at reducing sewer overflows that flood streets, streams and flow into Lake Superior. City leaders expect to begin enforcing the changes by mid-December.

The new program limits grants to install new sump pumps to $1,250 per home. The sump pump grant money had been unlimited, averaging about $2,000 per home. Under the changes, low-income home owners can get other grants to offset the cost of installing sump pumps.

Home and rental unit sellers must disclose if their property doesn't comply with discharge guidelines, and outline how to bring the property into compliance. The city will have the authority to inspect homes and can fine errant property owners $50 a month until their home or rental unit is no longer a problem.

The city will use money saved by the sump pump grant restrictions to inspect sewer lines and help pay for an 800,000-gallon storage basin in the Lakeside-Lester Park area, which has daunting wastewater problems.

Construction on the new basin could begin next year, said Dick Larson, director of public works and utilities. The city has applied for $4.9 million in state bonding money to help pay for the storage basin, expected to cost more than$8 million.

Consultants are exploring different sites and designs for the new storage basin, which will store sewer system overflow and divert it to the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District for treatment, Larson said.

Public works officials will do mandatory inspections in the neighborhoods that have had the most wastewater trouble, such as Lakeside and Lester Park.

The city has spent more than $6 million on the problem since 1995, mostly with increased sewer rates. More than 4,000 homes have been inspected, with 2,600 needing sump pumps.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is requiring Duluth to take care of the overflow problem or the city won't be allowed to issue new building permits.

"We support this direction," said Kurt Soderberg, WLSSD's executive director.

In other business, councilors denied the transfer of a liquor license from the Duluth Airport Authority to Pedro & Kerv Inc., which wants to operate the After Burner Lounge at the Duluth airport. Union leaders opposed the transfer, saying the new company isn't being fair to employees who have worked for the airport authority for more than 16 years. About five After Burner employees were laid off last Friday and told their last day would be Saturday, when the new company was expected to take over. Union members planned to picket the restaurant Saturday if the council approved the transfer. Airport officials weren't at the council meeting.

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