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Opponents of Afton wastewater project cry foul

The cities of Lake St. Croix Beach and St. Mary’s Point have submitted a petition for a contested case hearing to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency over its proposed Wastewater Treatment Facility, which is proposed to be similar to this system located in Lake Elmo. (Submitted photo)

Afton has found itself in a bit of a hot water with its proposed Wastewater Treatment Facility.

The cities of Lake St. Croix Beach and St. Mary’s Point, which neighbor Afton, have submitted a petition for a contested case hearing to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency related to the project.

City Council discussed the petition in a closed session following its regular meeting on Aug. 19.

The project

The proposed system, which will serve houses in the Old Village that currently have noncompliant and old septic systems, would be a cluster system and include a large subsurface wastewater treatment system – essentially a larger version of  what an individual home is currently served by – said Diane Hankee, Afton’s city engineer.

The proposed wastewater treatment system consists of a recirculating gravel filter and nitrogen reduction process designed to meet secondary treatment levels of contaminants, Hankee said. 

After going through these treatment processes, the treated water will recharge the local groundwater aquifer through infiltration beds.

The system is proposed to be located at 2318 St. Croix Trail South, the center two to three acres on a 25-acre site.

Hankee said the location was chosen based on proximity to the Old Village, elevation, available soils and parcel size.

In the public notice of the project, which was posted in May, MPCA indicated that it made a “preliminary determination” to issue the State Disposal System (SDS) permit for a term of approximately five years.

The petition

The permit’s public comment period, which closed June 23, allowed for a contested case hearing, which is a formal evidentiary hearing before an administrative law judge.

According to the public notice, a petition for a contested case hearing must include: A statement of reasons or proposed finding supporting the MPCA decision to hold a contested case hearing; a statement of issues proposed to be addressed by a contested case hearing and the specific relief requested or resolution of the matter; a proposed list of prospective witnesses to be called; a proposed list of publications, references or studies to be introduced and relied upon; and an estimate of time required.

In the petition that Lake St. Croix Beach and St. Mary’s Point submitted, the factual allegations are:

— Afton has applied for a permit for a large cluster septic system to be located north of downtown Afton and on a parcel of land within Afton city limits but directly adjacent to and border upon Lake St. Croix Beach and St. Mary’s Point

— The project is in close proximity to Valley Creek

— The project will require its sewage lines to cross Valley Creek, which is a protected trout stream which flows directly through St. Mary’s Point and into the St. Croix River

— Afton’s proposed project is in close vicinity to residential neighborhoods not being served by the system and being served by groundwater wells

Additionally, the petition states that the reasons for requesting the contested case hearing as questioning whether the project:

— May have a detrimental impact upon neighboring property owners

— May have detrimental impact upon neighboring wells, aquifer and groundwater in the immediately adjacent areas

— May have a detrimental impact upon Valley Creek, which is directly adjacent to the proposed SDS and flows directly into the St. Croix River.

Also under consideration:

— Whether nutrients out of the system may have a detrimental impact upon Valley Creek

— Whether Afton should appropriately locate its proposed facility in a location to the south to keep it away from numerous homes, wells and the trout stream

— Whether Afton should more appropriately connect its system to an existing MUSA line, rather than utilizing a large scale septic system.

Additionally, the petition requests Afton’s permit be denied in its entirety or alternatively be required to complete a full environmental investigation and environment assessment worksheet.

The petition for a contested case hearing will only be granted by MPCA if it finds that: there is a material issue of fact in dispute concerning the application or draft permit; the MPCA has the jurisdiction to make a determination on the disputed material issue of fact; and there is a reasonable basis underlying the disputed material issue of fact or facts such that the holding of the contested case hearing would allow the introduction of information that would aid the MPCA in resolving the disputed facts in making a final decision on the draft permit.

The MPCA is currently reviewing the petition.

Disputing cities

Several residents of Lake St. Croix Beach and St. Mary’s Point attended last Tuesday’s City Council meeting and expressed their frustrations during the public comment portion.

“Try not to be selfish,” Lake St. Croix Beach resident John Place said. “Be willing to give this up and give something back to your two adjacent communities – stop trampling on their rights.”

Jim Unker, a member of the Lake St. Croix Beach City Council, suggested the three communities work together.

“Let’s try and find a regional solution to this,” he said. “Let’s take this time and explore. Right now, we’re just getting into a defensive posture.”

A statement from the city of Afton states that Afton had previously notified the neighboring cities, in its 2030 Comprehensive Plan, of plans to consider a central sewer system in the Old Village and no feedback or suggestions were received.

Additionally, the statement said the proposed project is supported by the Valley Branch Watershed District, the Board of Soil and Water Resources, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Clean Water Fund and the Public Facilities Authority.

“A number of elements have been brought together to create a rare opportunity,” the statement reads. “While some residents of the adjacent cities are now suggesting a regional sewer solution, Afton should not be expected to give up its rare opportunity, as well as allow the continued water quality impacts to the St. Croix River and endure the impacts of regular flooding in the hope that, at some point in the future, the adjacent cities would muster the interest, effort and political will necessary to take on the major financial burden of a sewer project.”

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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