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LETTER: Coverage of St. Croix Valley issues is nicely outlined

Amber Kispert-Smith’s article “St. Croix Valley is divided” on May 20, 2015, nicely outlined issues facing Afton as it plans for and implements a solution to damage being done by substandard septic systems in its Old Village.  After reading it however, there a few issues we felt needed some clarification.  

The 25 acre lot Afton purchased has good soils and is located in the only direction available from the Old Village without steep bluffs.  To say this site is somehow “profitable”, as opponents say, is not true.  These 25 acres were not inexpensive, especially when you consider we only need 4 acres for the drain fields and a gravel re-filtration system.  However, a parcel of this size increased our ability to offer good buffers.  The vast majority of the 4 acres used are drain fields.  After construction they will be native grassland.  

The suggestion that Afton’s proposed subsurface treatment system (SSTS) is one of a number of “piecemeal fixes” is inaccurate.  It permits completely fixing the problems in Afton’s Old Village: removal of individual SSTSs from the levy permits fixing and certifying the levy; fixing the levy eliminates periodic flooding of the Village; removal of substandard individual SSTS eliminates nutrient loading of the St. Croix and the aquifer; a certified levy removes for residents the burden of buying flood insurance and lifts the federal limit on improvements to Village property.  

The complaint that Lake St. Croix Beach has “…residents right across the street who can’t hook up.” is disingenuous.  The problems of Afton’s northern neighbors could not be solved by Afton’s system.  They have much larger flood zone populations and more substandard systems than does Afton.  The suggestion that allowing St. Croix Beach residents to hookup to the system would make it “more palatable” seems unlikely given the opposition to the currently planned, much smaller system.

The proposal of Mr. Golden and Councilman Unker to get a regional solution by running a sewer pipe all the way up County Road 95 also fails scrutiny.   Obviously, such a pipe would have to be connected to a treatment facility and the way this has been proposed in the past, and the only financially viable method, would be connection to the metropolitan urban service area (MUSA) system, with funding orchestrated with Met Council support.  This would not be a solution for Afton.  Afton residents do not want the urban development linked to the MUSA.  

Furthermore, the Metropolitan Council policy which governs coverage of the MUSA does not provide for the MUSA in Afton or its northern neighbors.  The four cities to the north of Afton along the St. Croix are all categorized by the Metropolitan Council as Rural Residential, having densities which the Metropolitan Council in its Thrive MSP 2040 plan states “…do not support economical extension of wastewater services.”  The Met Council’s maps show these cities will not be in the MUSA through 2040.  In addition there are no plans for incorporation of these cities in the MUSA at any time thereafter.  Suggesting a regional plan involving hooking up Afton and northern neighbors to the MUSA is not only impractical, it is impossible.

While the Metropolitan Council does not plan to connect Afton to the MUSA, they do provide a framework for solving a localized problem in cities such as Afton which, unlike the cities to the north, is low density and categorized not as Rural Residential, but rather as Diversified Rural.  They recommend construction of subsurface sewer treatment systems such as the one Afton is planning.

Afton’s rural-by-design land use plans are designed to protect the environment, comply with the Minnesota Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and enhance the quality of our lakes and streams.  One has only to drive Afton’s roads, walk our bluffs, wade our streams and paddle our waters to know that no city in the St. Croix Valley is more careful than Afton in protecting the environment.

Bill Palmquist

Afton City Council member

Richard Bend

Afton mayor