City council discusses wastewater treatment facility and sets meeting with county to discuss marijuana legalization

City council discusses wastewater treatment facility and sets meeting with county to discuss marijuana legalization

Plans to upgrade the Grand Marais wastewater treatment facility are moving forward. 

During the May 31 city council meeting, an engineering firm, AE2S, based in Duluth, presented the wastewater treatment facility renewal plan outlining the recommended improvements, overall cost, and potential funding opportunities for the project. AE2S presented the draft wastewater treatment facility renewal plan to the public utilities commission during the March 1 meeting.

The project’s engineer, Michael Saunders, gave a thorough presentation and answered councilors’ questions regarding population growth modeling, capacity issues, odor control, and wastewater treatment facility operations for small towns. 

Saunders reassured that the current wastewater treatment facility does not have capacity issues. 

In the final draft of the renewal plan, AE2S projected a 1% population growth of Grand Marais in the next 20 years based on historical census data. “Looking long-term, I still think 1% growth is, I would say, accurate enough for the purposes of what we’re doing here,” Saunders said. 

Councilor Ben Peters responded, “Things are changing quickly in town. There’s a number of (housing) projects.” 

He added, “I feel like that 1% has historically been accurate, but I don’t think that’s the trajectory that we’re on now.” 

Mike Roth, the city administrator, said the city would look into doing a more detailed analysis of population growth modeling given the current housing projects and momentum in Grand Marais. “Let’s put that on the list before we do any detailed engineering design to do a little more analysis on growth rates and when we would be concerned about it.”

The estimated cost for the city’s wastewater treatment facility improvements is $8.95 million. Saunders included a 30% variance in the estimated cost.  

Saunders outlined numerous funding considerations for the city of Grand Marais to pursue to complete the extensive project. 

Funding options to help alleviate the financial burden on local taxpayers include seeking financial assistance from the state and federal government. Saunders outlined numerous funding considerations such as the Clean Water Revolving Fund, Green Project Reserve, Water Infrastructure Fund, USDA Rural Development Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant Program, MN Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation’s Community Infrastructure Grant, State Bonding Bill’s Capital Project Budget, among many others. 

Tracy Benson, the mayor of Grand Marais, said the city has already communicated with U.S. Senators Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar and asked for $3.9 million in support for the project. 

The following steps include submitting the wastewater treatment facility’s final draft renewal plan to the MPCA in the coming weeks with comments and feedback from the city councilors.

Then, in Jan. of 2024, AE2S will submit the wastewater treatment facility plans and specifications. Saunders said that come spring 2024, construction on the facility will commence. 

“It’s nice to have this moving along,” Benson said. 

Marijuana Legalization

During the May 31 meeting, Benson shared that specific city and county officials will sit down on June 8 to discuss the recently passed marijuana legalization bill. She said the county initiated the meeting to start the conversation, gather information, and set a temporary city and county moratorium. 

“We’d like to make sure everything is on pause here in the county until we have a chance to understand what we can and can’t do,” Benson said. The city and county will discuss zoning ordinances, land use restrictions, compliance checks, tax on marijuana, and much more. “It would be best to do this at a joint level so that we have uniformity across the whole county.”

The meeting includes City Administrator Mike Roth, County Administrator James Joerke, County Commissioner Dave Mills, Cook County Sheriff Pat Eliasen, County Attorney Molly Hicken, and Grand Marais Mayor Tracy Benson. 

WTIP’s Kalli Hawkins spoke with Grand Marais Mayor following the May 31 city council meeting. The audio from the interview is below.