Afton sewer construction to skirt possible Indian burial mounds

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Afton

Work on a new community sewer system for Afton will begin in March, after the city reached agreement with representatives of tribal governments.

To avoid any disruption of a possible ancient American Indian burial site, pipes will be rerouted and a stormwater retention pond will be built without a retaining wall.

Construction of the sanitary-sewer system and other infrastructure projects have been on hold since tribal representatives last year expressed concerns about the Rattlesnake Effigy mound in downtown Afton.

Mayor Richard Bend said Jan. 25 that the city has decided to reroute planned pipes so that they do not run through the mound. In addition, some existing pipes will be abandoned.

Pipes through the mound site that service private septic systems were to be replaced with pipes that would be part of the new system, but tribal representatives told city officials that they wanted all of the existing connections instead abandoned.

The pipes will remain in the ground per the tribal representatives' request, he said. "They did not want any further disturbance, and removing them would have involved disturbance, so they will be filled and remain in place," he said.

In addition, city officials have decided to eliminate a planned retaining wall for a stormwater retention pond; it would have been located adjacent to the mound.

Robert TwoBears, district representative for the Ho-Chunk Nation in Black River Falls, Wis., said he and other tribal officials are pleased about the changes.

"They finally understood that tribes weren't going to budge" regarding their position that the city should not be going under the actual mound, TwoBears said. "It was a great win. It took a lot of hard work and understanding on both sides."

How much the changes will cost the city isn't yet clear.

City Administrator Ron Moorse said: "The revised plans involve eliminating some construction and adding other construction. It also involves constructing similar items, but in different locations. We will be reviewing engineering plans to determine if quantities are changing and to determine the cost of any new work in order to determine if there will be increased costs."

Work on the community sewer, a better flood levee, a rebuilt St. Croix Trail and improvements to the storm sewer system is slated to begin in March, depending on the weather and the level of the St. Croix River, Moorse said.

The city has been working to address concerns from tribal representatives for nearly a year. Last spring, the city spent $14,000 for a survey performed by the Minneapolis firm Archaeo-Physics. It reported finding no prehistoric artifacts or burial sites.

But "based on a clear understanding of the tribal objections, the city determined that it would revise the plans to resolve the tribal objections to enable to the project to move forward," Moorse said.

Sewer construction was originally slated to begin in fall 2014. It was first delayed by neighboring cities' request for more environmental review from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and in 2016 by concerns about the possible burial mound.

The 25-acre wastewater collection and treatment system will service Afton's Old Village area; it is designed to protect the St. Croix River and groundwater, particularly during flooding.