Residents concerned over sewage proposal
Tom Klein

CRANE LAKE – The installation of a pipeline on Bear Island to deliver sewage to the Crane Lake plant for treatment is just one of several options being considered, Rob Scott, chairman of the Crane Lake Water and Sanitary District Board, told a full house at the Crane Lake Fellowship Chapel on Aug. 7.

The controversial proposal, which came under fire at the July 10 meeting of the CLWSD Board, led the board to schedule a public hearing on the issue prior to its regular board meeting.

Controversial proposal

At issue is a proposal by Short, Elliott and Hendrickson (SEH) Engineering to collect sewage from residences on Bear Island and send it to the sewage plant for treatment and disposal.

The plan calls for installing individual grinder stations at each residence with lines that connect to a main located above ground. The main would extend underwater from the island to a point south of Voyagaire Lodge and, from there, connect to the main line taking sewage to the plant. Cost for that option would be $2.478 million, according to SEH estimates.

Bear Island residents voiced numerous concerns about the proposal, questioning the environmental risks involved in installing a line under the lake, the high cost of the system and what they termed misleading information about the number of failing systems on the island. Several also complained that they had not been notified about the proposal for Bear Island far enough in advance.

At the Aug. 7 hearing, Scott said dealing with sewage treatment on Bear Island has been a part of the CLWSD agenda since the start and said the issue has come up at meetings of both the CLWSD Board and a joint powers board formed to address water concerns in the Voyageurs National Park region.

Even so, he apologized for not communicating the board’s intentions on Bear Island more clearly to the public.

Last week’s hearing also addressed questions about the number of failing systems on the island. Some estimates had pegged the number of failing systems as high as 70 percent, but those estimates likely included Ash River and Kabetogama as part of a regionwide survey.

St. Louis County Environmental Health specialist John Lindquist said that about 21 — or more than two-thirds — of the individual sewage treatment systems on Bear Island had been installed since 2008 and were considered compliant. The systems range from mound-type systems to systems with peat filters that require regular maintenance checks. In addition, a vaulted outhouse would be among the systems considered compliant.

That leaves about a dozen systems installed prior to 2008 that would need to be inspected to ensure they were compliant. But Lindquist said, based on past experience, he expected many of those would be compliant, noting that the county had been a leader in establishing strict compliance requirements. The cost of inspecting the systems would range from $300 to $500 depending on the type, location and size of the system installed, he said.

Several of those at the public hearing argued that those numbers did not justify proceeding with the more costly plan.

Bob Kaiser, who served on an advisory committee for the CLWSD that recommended Bear Island use individual sewage treatment systems, noted that many folks had invested tens of thousands of dollars in installing treatment systems. Those systems were still viable and would be for years, he said, questioning the need to make residents abandon their systems and pay for treating sewage at the Crane Lake plant.

Others said the cost of the proposal was prohibitively high and the environmental risks too great.

“What happens if a tree falls on the pipeline and breaks it open on the island?” asked one resident. Others noted that power outages or other interruptions with sewage service could be problematic, especially during early winter and spring months when travel to Bear Island would be difficult.

Another pointed out that it would be cheaper to install new individual treatment systems at Bear Island residences than to proceed with the 0pipeline option.

Variety of options

Scott said the collection and treatment plan was just one of several options for treating sewage on Bear Island. Other options included updating all independent sewage treatment systems to ensure they are compliant, using a combination of individual treatment systems and holding tanks or creating a cluster treatment system on the island.

Although funding from the state Clean Water Legacy Fund and Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board had been obtained for the pipeline option, lobbyist Gary Cerkvenik said the legislation was flexible enough that dollars could be allocated for other Crane Lake sewage treatment options or needs.

But the clock is ticking on a decision on how to proceed, Cerkvenik cautioned the board. If Crane Lake wanted to secure the dollars, it would need to complete its application by November or the state money would up for grabs.

State Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, who helped make the funds available to Crane Lake, said although he thought that connecting to the sewage treatment plant would be a less expensive option for Bear Island homeowners in the long run, he could also support a plan to continue with individual treatment systems as long as they were compliant.

Both Dill and St. Louis County Commissioner Mike Forsman also complimented the CLWSD on the work it had done to improve the water quality of Crane Lake.

Board members indicated the next step would be to verify how many treatment systems were compliant on Bear Island. That information could be vital in determining the board’s next step on which option to pursue for Bear Island.

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