The Wykoff City Council held a public hearing early last week regarding the construction of a new wastewater treatment plant, as plans for the new plant are to be finalized soon with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).

Michelle Vrieze, of the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Rural Development program, and Kevin Graves, of WKHS of Rochester, the engineering firm handling Wykoff's street and wastewater improvements, reported that the plans are close to ready for submission and that the "goal is to have bids in January or February, construction throughout the summer of 2013, and have the plant ready by fall 2013," according to Graves.

The $1 million wastewater treatment plant project replaces Wykoff's aging wastewater treatment plant, as parts for the existing plant have become obsolete, making the plant hard to repair.

Resident Charles Tjepkes inquired as to the plant's planned capacity. Graves answered that "it's based on having a small amount of growth, plus a buffer if a commercial entity would want to come in."

He elaborated, "Rural Development took a close look at the design capacity and recommended a plant to meet the needs of the city without being way out of line."

Resident Phil Eickhoff asked whether the road to the existing plant would remain where it is. Graves noted that a new access will be built from the lower side and that the existing access will remain. His other question involved what would happen if a large industrial company wished to establish a home in Wykoff. The engineer reiterated that the plant isn't designed for a large industrial entity and that any such company would likely have to have a pre-treatment plan to handle effluent before setting up connections to the city sewer system.

The next question from the audience was "What if the plant is not done when the new permit comes due?" Graves replied, "Part of the process is applying for a renewed permit with the MPCA, getting the application ready. There will be stricter effluent limits, and that will be part of renewing in the fall. There won't be ramifications from extending the permit."

Resident Leroy Rowe asked, "But if there's a fine, will the city have to come up with it? This has been dragging on for a long time."

The engineer stated, "It's our experience that the state will work with communities, and as long as we're making progress, there's not going to be that scenario. The original timeline is still on target. The plan is to be able to turn the valve and transfer from the old plant to the new one."

Wykoff's city maintenance foreman, Al Williams, spoke next, explaining Graves' point further. "If we go beyond the present permit, they'll just extend it one year until the new plant is done."

Graves stated that WHKS has examined Wykoff's sewer rates and feels that they are adequate to help pay for the new plant at this point. Mayor Mike Holzer added, "We've tried to keep costs down, and we're using the existing drying beds. We don't think we've been extravagant in building this."

Graves concurred, "We went through this with Rural Development, and they took a fine tooth comb to it. When you get a half-million dollar grant from them, you let them go through it with a fine tooth comb."

The city of Wykoff is also replacing water meters and changing its billing process from quarterly to monthly, as it has had difficulty within the past year with broken or missing meters, residents who report that their meters were read incorrectly and other residents who do not pay their utility bills or pay only a portion.

The council has stated in past meetings that it hopes to alleviate the amount of unpaid utility bills assessed to property taxes, as those assessments represent a loss to the city, often recoverable only through legal action. The city is attempting to streamline its water and sewer ordinances to provide fair and consistent service to residents, but has encountered numerous situations that pose legal and financial questions that seem to have hard-to-find answers.

With 20 minutes left allotted for the hearing, Eickhoff asked a frivolous question that garnered a giggle from the crowd. "What color is the plant going to be?" Wykoff city clerk Cheryl Davis jokingly retorted, "Fire engine red, just like the front door of city hall."

Further public hearings will be scheduled as Graves and the city continue to work with the MPCA to develop the new wastewater treatment plant. Citizens are invited to attend public hearings and gather information presented. For more information, call Wykoff's city hall at 507-352-4011 or attend monthly city council meetings, held the second Monday of each month at 7 p.m.