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Senate bonding committee hears requests to fund history, flooding and wastewater infrastructure

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.

Sen Bonding Tour.JPG
Members of the Senate Capital Investment Committee are greeted during a visit to the Wasioja School House in Wasioja on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021. The committee members visited Rochester, Kasson, Dodge Center, Wasioja and Zumbrota to hear proposals for projects seeking state bonding funds in the upcoming legislative session. Brian Todd / Post Bulletin
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ZUMBROTA — With requests ranging from an eye-popping $42 million to a paltry $400,000, the Minnesota Senate's Capital Investment Committee traveled from Kasson to Wasioja and Zumbrota on Thursday hearing proposals for projects needing state funds.

"This is our fourth week, and we've got one to go," said Sen. Thomas Bakk, R-Cook, chairman of the committee that helps determine which infrastructure projects will receive state funding in the next biennium. "Then we take this back and create some buckets to see how much we can spend on education, economic development, roads and bridges, and wastewater."

After touring Rochester and hearing proposals for capital projects Thursday morning, the committee was bused to Kasson, Dodge Center, Wasioja and Zumbrota to hear more proposals. Bakk said he'd heard about a dozen proposals in each of the past few days, and the committee would have another week following the same pattern before breaking for the holidays and getting ready for the legislative session that begins Jan. 31, 2022.

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Projects big and small

In Zumbrota, the committee heard the two extremes in funding requests.

The cities of Pine Island, Goodhue, Zumbrota and Wanamingo are all in need of either major upgrades to or newly constructed wastewater treatment facilities. However, the four communities have been exploring the option of a regional wastewater facility.

Zumbrota City Engineer Bill Angerman said the total project for the four cities would cost about $84 million – the cities jointly are asking the state for $42 million for the project – but that $84 million is the same amount all four communities would need to spend to each have a renovated or new wastewater plant.

The advantage to a combined sanitary sewer district, he said, would be in the annual operations costs. The regional treatment plant would save about $500,000 annually, plus the need to find certified wastewater operators would be reduced since there would be only one plant, and the lone plant would mean only one point of discharge into the Zumbro River.

Angerman said the plant would be built to a capacity for anticipated growth over the next 20 years, and would have room to be expanded if needed. That capacity would also include space for residential and commercial development once the Prairie Island Indian Community is able to move onto the land it purchased near Pine Island.

The new facility, which would be located in Zumbrota, would replace aging facilities in the district's member communities. For example, the wastewater facility in Goodhue was built in the 1930s and is long past its life expectancy. The wastewater facilities in the other towns were built from the 1950s to 1970s.

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On the other end of the dollar spectrum was a request from the city of Zumbro Falls. The city is requesting $400,000 to offset the city's financial burden from a joint project with the Minnesota Department of Transportation. While MnDOT is reconstructing Minnesota Highway 60 through Zumbro Falls, the city will pay to have sewer pipes that are more than 100 years old replaced while the road is dug up.

History and historic floods

Earlier in Thursday afternoon, individuals with the Wasioja Historic District asked for roughly $1.86 million to help stabilize the structure of the historic Wasioja Seminary school. Re-enactors from the area dressed up in Civil War-era clothing to make the point that the town's history – the seminary, the Civil War Recruiting Station and the Wasioja School House – are a unique collection of period buildings that cannot be found elsewhere in Minnesota.

After leaving Rochester, the committee arrived in Kasson where city staff and Mayor Chris McKern asked for $4.5 million to help continue work that would mitigate the damage from future flooding events.

City Engineer Brandon Theobald said Kasson has seen four "100-year flooding events" in the past 15 years.

The city's plan is to build a dry reservoir southwest of town on the south side of U.S. Highway 14, along the path of Masten Creek, a tributary of Zumbro River. During large rain events, excess water would be held in farm fields along Masten Creek before it gets to Kasson. This, Theobald said, would lower the elevation for 100-year flooding events by 2 feet.

The city has already spent about $5 million to fix issues from the last major flood in 2019, but another $9 million would build the upland storage reservoir, and replace city infrastructure that would improve the resistance to flooding and reduce sewer backups into homes.

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In 2019, floodwater infiltrated the city's sanitary sewer system causing water to back up into the basements of homes and businesses around town. City Administrator Tim Ibisch said 160 property owners reported flooding in their buildings to the city during that flood event, but he suspects there were more properties that took on water and were never reported.

The 2019 flood also closed both Highway 14 and Minnesota Highway 57 for part of a day.

Theobald said one resident has said the repeated flooding has been so bad he won't spend another $30,000 to refinish his basement again.

"That's why we're in this room," Theobald said. "We're taking this serious to provide flood protection."

Sen Bonding Tour.JPG
State Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, stands with Kasson Mayor Chris McKern in Kasson. Senjem and other members of the Minnesota Senate Capital Infrastructure Committee visited Rochester, Kasson, Dodge Center, Wasioja and Zumbrota on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, to hear proposals for projects seeking state bonding funds in the upcoming legislative session. Brian Todd / Post Bulletin

Brian Todd is the news editor at the Post Bulletin. When not at work, he spends time with his family, roots for the Houston Astros and watches his miniature dachshund sleep, which is why that dog is more bratwurst than hotdog. Readers can reach Brian at 507-285-7715 or btodd@postbulletin.com.
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