City to replace 80-year-old water plant

The city of Breckenridge, Minn., broke ground on its new water treatment plant Monday, Sept. 18. Above are Joel Hoistad, building official; Dennis Larson, Public Utilities Commission president; MN District 12 Sen. Torrey Westrom; Gordon Martinson, Public Utilities Commission vice president; Russel Graves, Public Utilities Commission; Breckenridge Mayor Russell Wilson; Glen Rakow, Public Utilities Commission; City Administrator Renae Marthaler; Neil Crocker, director of Public Service; and Brian Hiles, senior engineer of Ulteig.

Minnesota Sen. Torrey Westrom joined Breckenridge city officials Monday, Sept. 18 at a groundbreaking ceremony for the city’s new water treatment plant.

The plant will be located just south of Twin Town Villa along Highway 75. The project is expected to cost just under $9 million including contingencies, and the city has qualified to receive a $5 million forgivable loan through the state’s Public Facilities Authority. Ulteig Engineering has designed the plant and PKG Construction, Fargo, was awarded the bid to build it.

Westrom said infrastructure projects such as this are a priority for rural Minnesota communities.

“It’s something we can tout, hopefully, as part of our economic development, that we’ll now have a new water plant,” Public Utilities Commission President Dennis Larson said.

The city’s current plant is more than 80 years old and was originally a surface water plant that’s been converted to ground water, Larson explained.

“It’s not the most efficient plant in the world. They used to pump right out of the river. There was a low-head dam right below the water plant,” he added, “but now it’s taken out of wells.”

Westrom and Rep. Jay Backer, R-District 12A, have heard from city officials the last few years about the need for a new plant and over the summer, urged the city to wait one more year in case PFA financing could be increased.

“It was the best advice we could give you before the end of session, to hold off,” Westrom said. “I know it delayed it longer than anybody wanted to, but we’re glad it didn’t get caught up in the governor’s post-session tactics this year. It was a real strong infrastructure bill. That’s the focus I’m excited about, there’s more good, rural infrastructure. That bill might be the catalyst to help a generation of priorities. There’s a lot of small cities needing some help to keep the property taxes and water prices in check.”

Westrom said there needs to be better prioritization on taxpayer dollars.

“For years it’s gotten to be more pet projects and non-regional significant projects that have been cluttering up the bonding bill,” he said. “It’s great to be an advocate for our rural communities, it’s the lifeblood and where I’d like to see us put more of our priority, this type of infrastructure.”

Larson said he wants to emphasize the commission is hoping to keep water rates as they are and not have to raise rates because of the PFA forgivable loan.

“That made this possible, otherwise we’d be looking at some other rate increase and we can’t put that on the shoulders of our rate payers,” Larson said. “It keeps us competitive with our neighbors across the river. We have to focus on that, too.”

Director of Public Services Neil Crocker said as part of the emergency management system and the wellhead protection program that’s being worked on, a requirement is to have backup generators to run critical buildings and facilities.

“Yes, we’ll have generator backup for the water treatment plant but that doesn’t do us any good if we can’t get water to the plant, so that’s another part of our wellhead protection program,” Crocker said. “We’re looking at getting portable generators at the wells so we can pump water to the treatment plant, treat the water and then get it out to the city folks.”

The new plant will be two stories and have a 6,160-square-foot footprint. It will have the capacity of about 1,000 gallons per minute, or about 1.4 million gallons per day. The current plant has a capacity of about 1 million gallons per day.

“Typically we draw 450,000 per day, an average usage. When you get into summer months, it can be higher than that. In this area we see a lot of agricultural use. They fill up their tankers to use for spray application in the fields,” Crocker said. “We have some days where usage is high, 800,000-900,000 gallons, but for the most part it’s 450,000.”

He said the plant will have the capacity to meet the city’s future needs if it sees population growth.

The water tower will stay put, but new clear well water tanks will be installed underground in front of the new plant. They will be sitting slightly higher than grade and covered with grass.

Substantial completion is expected by October 2018, Crocker said, at which time testing could begin.

“The big thing is, what will be different is this plant will have real time feedback from the sensing devices,” he said, noting that the current plant requires more manual testing and sampling, but the new system will be more automatic with human oversight.

Brian Hiles, project manager with Ulteig Engineering, explained how the new plant will function.

“There’s basically one computer system, the brains for the whole plant, and all the equipment talks back to that,” he said. “That controls some of the different equipment. It turns pumps on and off, turns equipment on and off, adjusts some levels. Some will still be hand adjustments, but a lot of it will be automatic adjustments off the sensors. For example, when the clear well gets low, the plant turns on, when the tower gets low, then the high-service pumps turn on to fill the tower.”

Larson wanted to thank all the former and current city and public utilities staff, former council and current council members, and former Mayor Cliff Barth.

“On the Public Utilities Commission, (the late) Dale Peterson was instrumental on this,” Larson said, “and the rest of the commission. The city council has always been supportive and let us make this happen. The city staff and utility staff have gone over and above. Jim Bogenreif, the water plant foreman, went out of his comfort zone talking to the national news, but any recognition makes a difference.”

Larson also thanked Westrom and Backer for their work in the legislature, helping to get the PFA funding increased and passed.

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