CRANE LAKE – A new outhouse at the Department of Natural Resources’ public landing in Crane Lake has blossomed into a multimillion-dollar project, sparking criticism that the Crane Lake Water …
CRANE LAKE – A new outhouse at the Department of Natural Resources’ public landing in Crane Lake has blossomed into a multimillion-dollar project, sparking criticism that the Crane Lake Water and Sanitary District is flushing money down a toilet.
“It’s a complete waste of tax dollars,” said Brent Bystrom, whose parents live on Handberg Point and who is a frequent visitor to Crane Lake. Bystrom, who has a civil engineering degree with an emphasis in water and wastewater treatment, contends that the current facility, which stores waste in a watertight holding tank, is more than adequate. He alleges that the district is exaggerating the threat to Crane Lake’s water to secure grants to obtain more customers for its sewage treatment facility.
“This process is being driven more by politics than what is good for the environment,” he claimed.
Meanwhile, Sara Heger, an on-site sewage program specialist with the University of Minnesota Extension Service, questions the urgency of installing a pipeline before an inventory of existing wastewater systems is done.
“This is not the typical way you go about this,” said Heger, who is assisting Crane Lake in conducting a Comprehensive Assessment Review (CAR) of the community’s wastewater systems. “Usually you determine the need first before you install the pipeline.” Heger said many other options — such as mound or cluster systems — can be used and are less costly than connecting to a sewage collection and treatment center. In fact, she said, such options are as good if not better than transporting waste to a treatment and collection center.
In its application for funds, the Crane Lake Water and Sanitary District identified the DNR facility at the landing as one of three potential dangers to Crane Lake’s water quality. Other concerns listed in applications included waste from houseboats and recreational vehicles.
Bystrom said options exist for dealing with waste from houseboats and recreational vehicles, but board members say not everyone uses them. Even so, a proposed public facility for proper disposal of waste from houseboats and recreational vehicles has since been abandoned. A stub on private land that could be used for such waste disposal is included in the pipeline design, however.
Meanwhile, the DNR is moving forward on plans for a new bathroom equipped with flush toilets. To accommodate the outhouse, a 6,000-foot pipeline extension to the landing will be needed to pump waste to the treatment plant. The bathroom building is still in the design phase with construction expected later this summer.
Millions of dollars in public funding has been earmarked for the Handberg Road expansion, including $1.5 million in Legacy Amendment funds, $750,000 in state bonding and $689,586 in Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board dollars.
In addition, the state Legislature appropriated $300,000 from its water recreation fund for the new DNR bathroom. State. Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, authored the House bill (HF 418) to authorize the funds while Sen. Tom Bakk, DL-Cook, and David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, authored the Senate companion bill (SF 351).
The CLSWD Board defends the project as necessary to protect the environment, citing the need to “protect and restore the waters of Voyageurs National Park.” The board said no Legacy Dollars will be used for construction of the bathroom facility, and the district must provide matching funds for some of the public dollars.
The current privy sits on top a concrete tank, with a 1,000-gallon capacity. According to the DNR, the tank is pumped once a year, and averages about 150-250 gallons of waste annually. The pumped waste is hauled to the Crane Lake sewage facility for treatment.
Cost of the annual pumping is about $200. But the DNR will spend nearly 38 times that amount — $7,500 — just to hook up to the sewage line. In addition, it will be charged a monthly fee between $100 to $300, depending on the usage of the facility.
DNR Acquisition and Development Leader Kent Skaar acknowledges that the proposed Crane Lake facility is unique. Of the 1,600 boat launches in the state, fewer than half a dozen have flush toilets connected to sewage treatment plants. “It’s certainly not something that is commonplace,” Skaar said.
One facility, located on Lake Superior at McQuade Road, is at the end of a sewer and water line, he added. All of the other facilities are located where service was already available and the DNR simply needed to hook up to existing lines. Most of those locations were in the metro area.
Meanwhile, board members contend that the pipeline extension is not being built solely for the DNR, but also will provide access to the treatment plan for other residences in the area.
There are 13 properties located in the area that could be serviced by the pipeline. According to SEH Engineering’s own figures, that works out to an estimated $115,000 per property to enable access to the sewage treatment plant. By comparison, the cost of an individual sewage treatment system for each site would be about $20,000.
According to SEH Engineering, which is overseeing the pipeline extension, four homeowners have already expressed interest in hooking up to the pipeline.
But Heger questioned the board’s decision to move forward on the pipeline now.
“It’s slightly ridiculous to move forward on the pipeline before you complete your CAR,” Heger told the board at its April 1 meeting. “It’s harder for residents to make a good decision on their options if they don’t have all the information first.”
Board members counter that some had already approached the district about hooking up, noting that they said they didn’t want to be in the sewage management business and would rather just “flush and forget.”
But Heger said some might change their minds once they could compare options and their costs.
Board members Bill Congdon and Bruce Beste questioned if it would be possible to delay the pipeline project until completion of the Handberg Expansion CAR in late August.
SEH Engineer Randy Jeninges balked at any delays, saying it could create difficulties restoring the landscape once the pipeline was installed.
The district, however, has up to two to three years to spend the public funds before it loses them, which would allow the district to postpone the project until next year.