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WIld Mountain 12-8-13

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September 23, 2020

8/7/2020 1:21:00 PM
Region's sewer system to be run by corporate group

The Chisago Lakes Joint Sewage Treatment Commission met in special session Friday, July 31 and voted to put their money and trust into privatization.

Commission members altered the historic course of the regional wastewater system both philosophically and logistically on a vote of 6-2. (The second representative for the City of Wyoming, Dennis Schilling was absent.  Stacy’s member Paul Authier participated electronically.)

The two opposing votes were from Chairman Mark Wolcott and Wyoming City Council liaison Joe Zerwas, Both have spoken against privatizing the decades-old public system.  
Loss of control is the biggest concern expressed. Employees will belong to the corporate entity, sewer rates will be subject to a profit motive and the key people in day-to-day functions may or may not be accessible.

Wolcott, the Center City commission representative, resigned immediately.  

The motion by Chisago City commission member Bob Gustafson was to pursue Veolia --a private operations and management firm with over 30 systems under its umbrella throughout the central United States.  

The CLJSTC considered two finalist firms after presentations they met with recently. U.S. Water, based in Iowa, was the runner-up.

From what is known now, until the fine points come out of writing the contract, Veolia is $126,000 more than current public operations and maintenance expenses.
As an elected official Chair Wolcott has been involved in Chisago Lakes Area wastewater oversight for 35 years. He commented that he didn’t embrace what Veolia had to offer six years when the CLJSTC was investigating going private,  and he likes the idea even less now.  The commission was able to ensure a certain high level of service to all the member entities and all their special needs and Wolcott said he can only hope Veolia will keep that level of service.

Zerwas added, he supports the public sector providing many public necessary functions.  The CLJSTC with its local connections, local employees reporting to elected officials,  who are accountable,  and keeping the money in the local economy is worth protecting.

Lindstrom Mayor Kevin Stenson, outspoken in promoting the corporate option, said this decision is based on too few skilled wastewater personnel to select from. He added, public operations are going by the wayside because the private sector, large scale companies have the trained staff.  

The superintendent, for example, is weeks away from retiring.  The CLJSTC had a maximum of four viable candidates to replace the 40-year system superintendent. Three dropped out leaving the CLJSTC with one.  “One is not a whole lot of choice,” said Stenson.

Veolia has about 2,300 workers from which it apparently can deploy what they need, where they need them.  From the promotional materials in the Veolia proposal the company states it operates 14 sites, using the same sequencing batch reactor treatment system (organic versus mechanical) used by CLJSTC.

The commissioners  last week formed a negotiating committee to work with Veolia and bring a contract back quickly.  

There are multiple resignations pending that have, or will, vacate key positions within the current personnel and time is of the essence for a seamless transition.

CLJSTC Member from Lindstrom, David Waldoch, noted concerns about lack of clarity if the Veolia proposal requires additional local administration, and how capital expenses will be handled. Waldoch said the budget is set for now, and major purchases are in there and the company shouldn’t have to meet to authorize expenditures.  The local wastewater system also involves an extensive collection network, from Stacy and Wyoming to Hazelden and the South Sanitary District with the actual treatment plant, so contract details could take time.

The commission agreed three largest city administrators will be on the committee; Robb Linwood, John Olinger and John Pechman, plus legal counsel, and up to three CLJSTC members.

Commission member Jeremy Dresel, for Chisago City, pointed out many issues hinge on the contract committee.  He posed the main question on everybody’s minds-- whether current sewer rates will continue to cover the projected Veolia budget and expected payments to departing employees.

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WIld Mountain 12-8-13

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