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Wastewater plan needs FAA okay

By Seth Schmidt


Federal Aviation Administration approval continues to be a question mark for planned Tracy wastewater treatment improvements.

The Tracy City Council has requested that the city be allowed to proceed with a new wastewater treatment system with new settlement ponds northeast of the Tracy Airport.  Existing settlement ponds, which are also near the airport, would be abandoned.

Chris Larson, consulting engineer for the I&S Group of Mankato, updated the council on the wastewater project last week.  Larson said the federal Rural Development agency continues to review the council’s preferred plan..

Larson said that FAA representatives have not said whether they will support a wastewater plan that includes new ponds near the airport.  Larson said the FAA advises that any new sewage ponds be built “outside of the setback” from the airport.  However, Larson said the FAA has not indicated whether they would oppose new ponds near the airport, if wildlife mitigation steps were taken.

FAA representatives have expressed concerns about the possibility of ponds attracting waterfowl, and creating a risk of birds striking aircraft.

Mayor Tony Peterson expressed frustration over what he called a “government two-step. I won’t tell you ‘yes,’ but I won’t tell you ‘no.’”

The mayor felt that chances of waterfowl putting airplanes near the Tracy Airport at risk were remote.

“I asked them how long ago it had been since they’d had a bird strike.  It took them two weeks to get me an answer.”


Split-pond plan

In July, the council unanimously went on record favoring a sewage treatment system with stabilization ponds on two sites northeast of Tracy.  Two primary settlement ponds would be built on land purchased from Dennis and Linda Fultz.  Two secondary ponds would be built on land purchased from Edith Holstein about three miles east of the Fultz land.  Sewage from the primary would be piped to the secondary ponds.

“The split-pond system appears to be the most cost-effective,” Larson said.

Engineers have estimated the 20-year “present value” cost of the split-pond option at $9,121,290.  Estimated 20-year present value costs of three other sewage treatment options have been calculated at  $10,319,952 for aerated ponds at one site;  $11,793,103 for a mechanical treatment plant; and $10,336,353 for stabilization ponds on one site.

“I think that we are moving in the right direction,” Larson said, of the split-pond recommendation.

The engineer said that Rural Development is very conscious of total costs, and will not fund an option that is more than $1 million more expensive than another workable plan.

The city has not been able to find a site with a willing seller that is large enough to accommodate settlement ponds at a single site.

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Tracy’s 1960s vintage sewage treatment system does not meet state standards.  The walls of Tracy’s existing sewage lagoons leak.  During periods of heavy runoff, the system is overloaded, with the result of sewage sometimes getting discharged into the watershed northeast of Tracy that eventually flows into the Minnesota River.  The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has placed a moratorium on new sanitary sewer extensions until the wastewater system is brought back into compliance.