Minnesota Supreme Court says yes to more water treatment plants

Sauk River
Development plans in Minnesota's growing communities will be affected by a Minnesota Supreme Court ruling that allows two Wright County towns to build a new wastewater treatment plant on a polluted river. The new plant will allow new development in Annandale and Maple Lake.
MPR file photo

The towns of Annandale and Maple Lake sit about 50 miles to the north and west of the Twin Cities in the middle of a fast-growing commuter corridor. Town officials have long known in order to handle future growth, they needed to update their wastewater treatment system.

Annandale's Mayor Sam Harmoning is relieved the Minnesota Supreme Court says her town can now do that.

"This means that Annandale-Maple Lake can finally get out of their antiquated waste water treatment facilities and move on to the next level and afford our citizens the best that we can provide them with. And it will allow us to have new development, grow a little bit and invite new ideas and new people into a community, it just means good things," Harmoning says.

Downtown Annandale
Annandale is a city ready to grow, but can't until it gets a new wastewater treatement plant.
MPR file photo

In 2003 Annandale and Maple Lake asked the Minnesota State Pollution Control Agency or MPCA for a permit to build a new joint water treatment plant. The MPCA granted the permit.

But the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy appealed the decision. The environmental group said the new plant would further dirty already polluted rivers. A state appeals court agreed and said the MPCA was wrong to issue the permit.

Now the state Supreme Court has overruled the lower court, saying the MPCA was right when it said the plant could be built.

Kris Sigford with the St. Paul-based Center for Environmental Advocacy still maintains the new sewage plant will be in violation of the federal Clean Water Act. "This decision allows the addition to already polluted waters without having a clean up plan in place," Sigford says.

MPCA officials say they're working to clean up those polluted waters, but won't have a plan in place until 2009. The MPCA's Nancy Miller says in the meantime, they need to allow growing communities to replace outdated water treatment plants.

Mayor Sam Harmoning
Annandale's Mayor Sam Harmoning says her town can't bring in any new developments unless it's able to build a new wastewater treatment plant.
MPR file photo

"The Supreme Court ruling gives the state a little more flexibility where we can be more protective of the environment but we're also meeting the wastewater needs of communities across the state," Miller says.

The Minnesota Supreme Court agreed with the MPCA that while the new Annandale-Maple Lake treatment plant would put 3,300 pounds of phosphorous into the Crow River every year, a new treatment plant upstream would cancel that out by removing more than 50,000 pounds of phosphorous from the water.

City officials across Minnesota in need of new wastewater facilities were closely watching this case.

Craig Johnson with the League of Minnesota Cities says towns need to be able to build new treatment plants to handle growth and increased demands on their water systems.

"The ability of these communities to go ahead with that is not only going to help them be able to have the capacity to allow new housing and new industry move into their neighborhoods, but it's going to allow them to do a better job of protecting the environment than they are now," Johnson says.

In Annandale and Maple Lake where this case started, city leaders say they'll get together and decide how to proceed with the new $11 million dollar treatment plant. They say it will take a year-and-a-half to build, and they hope to break ground soon.

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