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Perham council tours city buildings, chooses wastewater facility design

A design of what the new 20-acre wastewater treatment facility will look like. The Perham City Council of the Whole approved the 20-acre plan at a special Feb. 23 meeting.

Before getting down to business at a special meeting on Feb. 23, the Perham City Council of the Whole had a special event: Tours of the city garage and emergency services building.

At the garage, Public Works Director Merle Meece gave the council a tour of the facilities. Meece and other public works employees also gave the council presentations on snowplow, natural gas and other city maps in the building and explained how the maps are used.

At the emergency services building, the council was given a tour of both the police department and the fire department. Fire Chief Mike Schmidt gave a presentation to the council on different types of firemen's gear.

Schmidt also gave a brief presentation to the council on the FEMA grant that the fire department was recently awarded to purchase a new fire truck.

Wastewater treatment facility

After returning from the tours, the council heard a presentation from Jeremy Anderson from Design Tree Engineering of Alexandria on the topic of the city's new wastewater treatment facility. Design Tree conducted a topographic survey for the project.

An initial facility report prepared by Ulteig Engineering called for the construction of a 20-acre holding pond with the capacity to handle 413,000 gallons per day. This amount would increase the city's treatment capacity by 71 percent over its existing facilities.

In meetings between the city and Design Tree, questions were raised as to whether a 71 percent increase in capacity would be the right amount to accommodate Perham's future growth, or if it would be too large an increase.

At the Feb. 23 meeting, Anderson presented the council with 10-acre and 15-acre holding pond possibilities for the project, in addition to the 20-acre plan that Ulteig had initially come up with.

Ulteig's facility plan estimated a budget of $3,400,000 to build the 20-acre facility. Anderson told the council that the city could save around $100,000 from that budget for every acre that was cut down from the project.

So, if the city opted for a 10-acre site instead, it could potentially save $800,000-$1,000,000, Anderson said. A 10-acre site would only increase the city's flow capacity by 194,000 gallons, or 33 percent.

A 15-acre site would save $400,000-$500,000, he said, and would increase the city's capacity by 302,000 gallons, or 52 percent.

However, Anderson said, if the city built a smaller facility and then realized a need to expand in the future, costs could potentially double to do a stand-alone 5- or 10-acre project.

Following Anderson's presentation, City Manger Kelcey Klemm gave the council an overview on debt funding of the project, which would be spread out over 20 years or more.

Klemm said that he and City Finance Officer Karla McCall are currently working to see if the city can qualify for certain grants to assist with funding of the project.

Size of the project

The council then discussed which project size would be most appropriate for Perham, with some council members initially considering the feasibility of the 15-acre site.

"I'd be nervous going 15," councilman James Johnson said. "Is there any way we could do 17.5?"

Meece told the council that in the 14 years that he has worked in the public works department, the city's water flow has jumped over 200,000 gallons.

If that is a standard rate of growth for a city like Perham, McCall said, then a new 20-acre facility should last for 30 years or so.

Other council members agreed, and Johnson said that having extra capacity could be an incentive for large companies to move to Perham.

"It's an economic development tool," McCall added.

Mayor Tim Meehl said that he was initially leaning towards the 15-acre plan, but after the council's discussion said that the 20-acre plan was the likely best long-term solution for the city.

"Let's just do it right," he said.

After a motion by councilman Fred Lehmkuhl, the city unanimously voted to move forward with the 20-acre site plan.

With the scope of the facility finalized, the next phase of the project will be for Design Tree to submit the plan to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for approval.