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Great Lakes Article:

Sewer fees would raise millions for clean water
By Martiga Lohn
Associated Press
Published in the Duluth News Tribune December 21st, 2004


ST. PAUL - Minnesota has become the land of 10,000 polluted lakes, rivers and streams, a coalition of environmental, business and farm groups said Monday while calling for $80 million in new sewer fees to pay for cleanup.

Homeowners would be charged $3 per month and businesses would pay between $120 and $600 per year for each sewer hookup under the "Clean Water Legacy" proposal. The money would pay for improvements to local sewage treatment plants and measures to reduce runoff from farms, with some of the money earmarked to protect pristine bodies of water.

Water pollution threatens to stop factories from expanding and businesses from opening under a federal law restricting sewer discharge near contaminated bodies of water that don't have cleanup plans in place, said Craig Johnson, a lobbyist with the Minnesota League of Cities. Nine cities -- including St. Cloud, Princeton and Faribault -- face lawsuits over the issue.

"There could be an economic-development moratorium in place on many communities," Johnson said. "We don't really have communities in Minnesota that aren't on water."

Gov. Tim Pawlenty is considering the proposal and will say more when he releases a two-year budget Jan. 25, he said in a written statement. The plan is "a positive proposal," Pawlenty added.

The coalition wants help from the Legislature and Pawlenty so the water pollution sewer fee -- similar to charges for recycling and stormwater management -- would go into effect statewide, Johnson said.

Rep. Dennis Ozment, R-Rosemount, chairman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Finance Committee, said he plans to introduce the proposal in the House. His committee will look at the sewer fee and other sources, including lottery proceeds, for money, he said. A Senate sponsor has not stepped forward.

Public beaches on Lake Superior in Duluth, Two Harbors and Grand Marais closed last summer because of elevated bacteria counts. An ethanol plant under construction in Lake Crystal will have to pipe its sewage 12 miles to meet clean water standards, raising the project's cost, said Chris Radatz of the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation.

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