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Four Goodhue County cities hire lobbyist to advocate for North Zumbro Sanitary Sewer District project

Zumbrota, Wanamingo, Pine Island and Goodhue will make a capital infrastructure request for the proposed regional wastewater treatment plant during the 2023 legislative session.

City Hall Pine Island.jpg
A person walks into the city council meeting on Tuesday, July 21, 2020, outside the Pine Island City Hall. Pine Island is one of four cities asking for state funding for a new regional wastewater treatment facility.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin file photo
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GOODHUE COUNTY — Three of the four cities vying for state funding for a new regional wastewater treatment plant have approved a contract to hire a professional lobbyist to advocate for their capital funding request when Minnesota legislators return to St. Paul in January.

The city councils in Wanamingo and Goodhue passed resolutions affirming the cities' contract with Minneapolis law firm Winthrop & Weinstine on Monday, and the Pine Island City Council did the same at its Tuesday meeting. As for Zumbrota, city administrator Brian Grudem said it's on the city council's Thursday meeting agenda, and he anticipates that the council will approve the plan.

"They've been very supportive of this effort the whole way along," Grudem said.

The cities' lobbyist will back the proposed North Zumbro Sanitary Sewer District, a new regional wastewater treatment plant that would serve all four cities and replace those communities' current, aging treatment plants. The seven-month contract, which begins on Dec. 1, will cost the cities a combined $5,250 each month. Pine Island's resolution approving the contract specifies that the cost will be split equally between each city — $1,312.50 per city per month.

This latest step in advancing the proposed project comes after the cities asked the 2022 Minnesota Legislature for $42 million to help fund the $84 million project — Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, introduced that bonding request. But the Legislature didn't advance a bonding bill in its 2022 session, leaving the project on hold for a year.

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"It's been a long road," Grudem said. "We thought we were close the last legislative session, but, of course, they didn't do a bonding bill. So, that put us back to where we are now, and we feel it's important to have a lobbyist to be our eyes and ears and voice up at the Capitol on a daily basis."

The cities had previously hired Winthrop & Winestine in April and May 2022 to lobby the Legislature to pass capital bonding and American Rescue Plan Act infrastructure funding requests. The Prairie Island Indian Community also helped the cities lobby for that funding.

Pine Island Mayor David Friese said it was frustrating that the Minnesota Legislature — with a $9.3 billion surplus on hand — didn't advance the cities' funding request earlier this year.

Kasson made a request for help with flooding mitigation efforts; four cities including Pine Island and Zumbrota hope to form a regional wastewater sanitation district.

"I don't feel like we were asking for anything that was unnecessary, nor was it unreasonable," Friese said. "It was just frustrating to not have that bonding bill passed, and that's where I really feel that our state leaders failed us on that, just unable to come to a compromise and get that through."

With DFL Gov. Tim Walz securing a second term and DFL majorities in the House and Senate, the bonding request stands a better chance of passing in 2023.

"If that happens, I think you would see this project hit the ground running," Friese said. "Our four communities have done our due diligence, and we're looking at all the different options of getting that project moving forward."

Friese estimates that if the Legislature approves that funding, work would begin on the treatment plant within a year.

In the long term, Grudem said the new facility will be more environmentally and fiscally friendly.

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"We believe that it is better for the environment because we'll have one discharge into this portion of the (Zumbro River) as opposed to four discharges," Grudem said. "Long term, it'd be a savings for all of our communities. We project right now about $500,000 a year in savings."

Friese said the project will have an impact beyond the four collaborating cities.

"It's going to impact the region," Friese said. "It's going to be a template for, I believe, the rest of the state when you have a lot of these smaller communities having to look at how to replace their own sanitary sewer systems. That's why I think having that support up at the Capitol is going to pay dividends in communicating that message to our state legislators."

Dené K. Dryden is the Post Bulletin's region reporter, covering the greater Rochester area. Before joining the Post Bulletin in 2022, she attended Kansas State University and served as an editor for the student newspaper, the Kansas State Collegian, and news director for Wildcat 91.9, K-State's student radio station. Readers can reach Dené at ddryden@postbulletin.com.
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