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Wastewater rates go up, new industrial penalty structure set

Now that Perham’s newly expanded wastewater treatment facility is fully operational, the city has updated its user agreements with local industries to reflect new permit limits and a new penalty structure for going over those limits.

Increased capacity at the plant will allow the city’s major industries to discharge higher loads of waste than they were able to before. If for any reason those new limits are exceeded, the industries will be penalized with a ‘surcharge’ that will vary depending on how far over the limit they’ve gone.

While such penalties are not new this year, the formula for calculating them is.

In an effort to make the surcharges easier to calculate and understand, the city has switched from a percentage-based to a flat rate penalty, charged per pound or per flow.

Penalties will also be incorporated into an industry’s monthly bill, rather than being sent as a separate quarterly invoice, to provide more immediate information about a company’s violations.

“You get more instantaneous feedback with monthly surcharges,” rather than quarterly, said City Administrator Kelcey Klemm.

In addition to these changes in how penalties are calculated and billed, there are also new penalties now being enforced – for ph imbalances and oil and grease concentration levels. These had never been taken into account in the past.

To determine whether an industry is exceeding its permit limits, the city will take random ‘grab’ samples from each major industry’s discharges, three to four times a month. On monitoring days, composite samples will be taken every 15 minutes, over a full 24-hour period. The samples will be analyzed by an independent lab.

 “We don’t tell the industries when we’re doing our sampling,” said Public Works Director Merle Meece. “Nobody knows when.”

Permit limits are overseen by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Perham’s new industrial user agreements are five-year agreements. Some of the newly set permit limits could be altered in the future, if need be, though Klemm said there’s “not a lot of wiggle room” for that.

Under the new agreements, companies that violate any of their discharge limits for three months in a row, or for fourth months during any two consecutive quarters, will need to submit to the city a plan of action for getting back within their limits.

And, if a company’s excessive discharges cause the city to exceed its own permit limit, then that company will need to do whatever is necessary to get back into compliance, immediately.

Changes in the new 2014 wastewater rates will result in an overall 4-10 percent cost increase per month for industrial customers. That includes a .25-cent increase to the base rate as well as small increases in flow rates, BOD (biochemical oxygen demand) and solids.

For residents, the rate increases will mean about an 8 percent overall increase. A monthly wastewater bill that would have cost $23.15 last year, for example, will cost an even $25 this year.

Wastewater rates are determined by dividing the city’s total cost of operating the system by its total billable volume.

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Perham Focus more than five years ago, and has since worn many hats as writer, editor and page designer. She lives in rural Frazee with her husband, Dan, their one-year-old son, Simon, and their yellow lab, Louisa. 

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