A proposal to start upgrades for Rochester’s water reclamation plant found support Monday.

The Rochester City Council gave a nod to the process that will start the first phase of a three-phase upgrade with a total estimated cost of $87 million.

While council members voiced concerns regarding the overall proposed price tag, Public Works Director Chris Petree said funds for the $10 million first phase are already available.

A quarter of the $10 million was approved in 2014, and the council will be asked next month to approve using $7.5 million from the sewer enterprise’s reserve fund.

“There’s a number of check-ins that the council will have on just Phase 1,” he said, noting other approvals will be needed as design efforts get underway and work continues into next year.

The next phase of work, which is slated to start as early as 2021, would come with the highest estimated price tag of the three phases — $62 million.

Wendy Turri, deputy director of public works — environmental services, said that work, which would include revising the process for treating wastewater, could be eligible for a $7 million grant, as well as a low-interest state loan as the city nears the expected 2026 end of an existing loan for work completed in 2004.

Turri said the current rate plan covers the expected added cost for starting the projects.

“They anticipated the next five to six years would continue to have some increases and then things would really start to slow down,” she said.

With a new rate study expected to start next year, she said payments on a future loan could be part of that work, adding she expects using a state-supported loan could decrease the city’s loan payments in the long run.

Petree noted the actual amount of any future loan remains undetermined. The combined $87 million cost of the proposed work, which is likely to extend into the final years of the next decade, is an estimate, and he said the goal is to find ways to reduce costs.

“These are very conservative, high-level numbers,” he said.

While the final price tag may be murky, Turri said the plant’s needs are clear.

She said a key goal in the proposed project is maintaining the reliability of a plant that treats 14 million gallons of wastewater per day.

“We want to make sure we can do that every day,” she said.

Displaying a plastic bag filled with small broken parts that have interrupted processes in recent months, she said the plant needs to be upgraded to ensure wastewater continues being treated.

“It’s old and it’s breaking,” she said.

And environmental standards are tightening for a plant that was built in the 1980s.

“We know we are going to get a tighter phosphorus limit,” Turri said, noting the current plant won’t meet the new requirements.

While discussing the project, Council President Randy Staver said he appreciated the forward-thinking approach but also suggested watching state efforts that could encourage developing a regional approach to wastewater treatment.

“I don’t think we should think of a project of this magnitude in isolation.” he said.

Turri said the reliability being sought with the proposed project means Rochester would be able to handle wastewater from a neighboring communities, if needed.

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Local Government Reporter

Randy is the Post Bulletin's local government reporter, covering the city of Rochester and Olmsted County, as well as Destination Medical Center efforts. He joined the Post Bulletin staff in 2014.