Kip Sande, a University of Minnesota student, presents information on Fountain's wastewater treatment plant. Sande was part of a team of students who visited the new plant to help determine what might be causing the plant's malfunctions.  GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/REPUBLICAN-LEADER
Kip Sande, a University of Minnesota student, presents information on Fountain's wastewater treatment plant. Sande was part of a team of students who visited the new plant to help determine what might be causing the plant's malfunctions. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/REPUBLICAN-LEADER

"Your sludge may not be old enough," a member of the University of Minnesota capstone team told the Fountain City Council last week.

The team presented its findings on its investigation of the city's wastewater treatment plant, which, since being built just a few years ago, has had persistent problems with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) citing nitrate permit violations.

Most cities do not have nitrate limits imposed upon their wastewater treatment processes, but Fountain's karst topography means the standards governing how it cleans its wastewater and releases it back into the watershed are stricter.

The plant's construction was meant to solve the majority of the growing town's wastewater treatment capacity problems with the replacement of the old plant. However, Fountain's city council has consistently dealt with nitrification troubles that have incurred expense after expense and exasperation stemming from the plant manufacturer's refusal to acknowledge that it ever sold the package plant to the city. The plant has also experienced ensuing equipment breakdowns that have upset the balance of the wastewater treatment process.

The University of Minnesota team shared that "the root causes might be oxygenation and sludge age," or that too much aeration at night may be inhibiting the good bacteria from doing its job of eliminating nitrates and the sludge isn't mature enough to handle its job.

The team suggested the city set up testing during certain days and times of day throughout the year, partially dependent on when Valley Design discharges its tanks. They felt the plant's water usage has a great effect on the amount of water flowing through the wastewater treatment plant. The team also suggested the city install a continuous dissolved oxygen monitor, a timed system, a control loop or replacing airlift pumps.

The team members promised to deliver a report to the city, complete with a testing scheme, so that the wastewater treatment operator and the city engineer, Dave Morrill, could examine options.

Morrill inquired of the students as to whether the city should send its operator to test the oxygenation levels more than once daily, and the reply came that "once the oxygen gets high enough, the bacteria - which prefer to use oxygen - won't use the nitrates."

That prompted Morrill to ask whether they felt that installing an oxygenation meter to constantly monitor the aeration of wastewater would be a prudent move, and they answered that doing so might prove useful.

Councilor Jim Schott asked them, "Did you talk to the manufacturer of the plant?"

A student related that phone calls were made to the plant's manufacturer, Ashbrook, in Texas, and that he spoke to the company's vice president, who essentially "pretended not to know where Fountain was or that you ever bought a plant from them."

The students thanked the city for the opportunity to use the plant as an educational exploration site, and in turn, Fountain Mayor Richard Kujath thanked the students for investing their time in trying to solve the wastewater treatment plant's malfunctions.

Following the presentation, Morrill advised the council to consider purchasing a dissolved oxygen meter to augment other operating meters already in place at the plant.

Councilor Bryan Ostby inquired whether the city could experimentally use the plant as a holding tank to deal with oxygenation issues, but Morrill replied that the MPCA would deny the request and that the installation of oxygenation meters would be a "lower cost than putting in an equalization tank," an expensive measure that the council had discussed previously.

Other maintenance issues

In city maintenance business, the council discussed the vacant lot behind the fire hall, perpetual sinkhole repair on the First Street boulevard, utility hookups at 311 First Street, and paid time off for city maintenance worker John Hanson.

Hanson is working to deal with making the lot behind the fire hall usable again - doing concrete demolition - and needed to know how to dispose of the concrete. He suggested that he might like to break it up and use it for gravel and as fill for the First Street boulevard sinkhole.

The street committee will look over the sinkhole, and until a solution can be found, the hole will be marked for safety purposes.

The utility hookup at the First Street address concerned a resident reporting that his water meter was not registering, and the city subsequently replacing the meter.

The council voted to charge the resident for the standard 3,000 gallon base charge because the reading on the old meter did not coincide with the homeowner's water usage.

Police report

Fountain Police Chief Tom Mosher reported on April police activity, including his participation in use of force and pursuit training, the receipt of two automated defibrillators from the county to be placed for public use, a report of the invasion of raccoons under a resident's deck, and a three-town burglary and theft spree.

He told how the spree began in Chatfield - where the suspects stole an ATV and a pickup truck - and came to Fountain, broke into Willie's Grocery and eventually spent time attempting to break into businesses in Lanesboro.

Mosher noted he was pleased as to how the immediate investigation went and that evidence is being compared to determine that the suspects are indeed culpable for their deeds.

He reminded residents, "Remember to keep things locked up. I've had reports of a door hanging open on a garage, and that's an invitation for someone to take tools, lawnmowers, anything. If you even put a cheap lock on a door, someone has to break it to get in, and that means they'll leave evidence."

Other business

In other business, the council addressed matters such as the chain mounts used to moor the AT&T dish to the water tower, the consent letter for enhancements to existing AT&T equipment, and a quote on steel sheeting for the city shed and the sand shed.

Councilors were not certain whether they approved of AT&T's intended plan to weld chain mounts to the tower, but passed a motion allowing enhancements to the existing equipment.

Schott made a motion accepting the bid submitted by Duane Gilbertson to re-roof the city shed, but since the item is not included in the 2014 budget, the council considered whether the matter is an emergency worth addressing this year. The council set aside $5,000 for equipment and $10,000 for street and road improvements, but could not find a fund into which the project would fit. However, the city does have money in its capital improvement fund that it could use, so Schott motioned to transfer money to make the re-roofing happen.

Also, city clerk Ronda Flattum shared that head election judges' training is coming up on Tuesday, May 13, and will mean that the city offices will be closed due to her participation in the training.

Finally, the Fountain Trail Days Committee requested a $1,000 donation for Fountain's Trail Days, this year set for Saturday, June 7, and the council granted the funds requested.

The next regular city council meeting is set for Thursday, June 5, at 7:30 p.m. at city hall.