AUSTIN EDITION -- More help on tap for plant

Budget calls for waste water treatment vacancy to be filled in 2003

By Nikki Merfeld


It might be a dirty job, but someone has to run Austin's Waste Water Treatment Plant. In 2003, a vacancy there will be filled, providing another pair of hands for the work.

Jim Samuel is the plant's director. After John Fisher retired about two years ago, Samuel became the acting director. He began taking the training needed to earn his 'A' license, said City Engineer Jon Erichson. Samuel completed that in about six months and then was given the full promotion to plant director.


The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency requires someone with an 'A' license to monitor the plant's output. While Samuel was in training, Austin contracted with Albert Lea to share an 'A' license employee.

"They let him spend some time over here," said City Administrator Pat McGarvey.

Since Fisher's retirement, the plant has been operating without an operations supervisor, Samuel's job under Fisher.

"We're always trying to do without if we can," Erichson said.

However, the waste-processing business is one that draws much attention from regulatory agencies, especially the MPCA.

"We have so many rules and regulations in that area, it's hard to keep up," Erichson said.

In March, cities with populations of less than 50,000 will be required to have an MPCA permit for storm water. Larger cities are already required to apply for such permits. Austin will have to apply for the permit and conduct a study to determine the work that'll be required to meet MPCA and federal Environmental Protection Agency rules. After the study and work are done, which could take a few years, ongoing monitoring will be required.

The job description for the supervisory position is still being written.


"We might even put some of that in the job," Erichson said of the regulations work.

Also, "in the next five years, we'll be doing $20 million of work at the treatment plant," he said. Next year, a $5 million, 18-month portion of an upgrade to the domestic side will begin.

Funds for it are part of the capital improvements plan and have been budgeted over several years. Funding comes from the user fees, including a sewer fee on Austin Utilities bills.

Hormel Foods Corp. provides funding for the operations of the commercial portion of the plant, said McGarvey.

"It's a self-supporting facility. Half the money comes from Hormel and half comes from utilities," he said.

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