Planning for future growth
With the new St. Croix River Crossing due to be complete in a couple of years, the Somerset area and the Apple River watershed are poised for growth.
Chuck Schwartz, a senior project engineer with MSA Professional Services and the coalition engineer of the newly formed Highway 64 Communities Stormwater and Wastewater Coalition addressed the Somerset Village Board at its June 17 meeting.
He gave the board an overview of the purpose of the coalition, its progress and the planning dollars available to communities in the Apple and Willow River watersheds.
According to Schwartz, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was written 10-15 years ago relating to the St. Croix River Crossing, which identified several sources of funds to be used for stormwater and wastewater planning, mitigating impacts of growth and maintaining green space.
The money that was earmarked for this purpose is now available to communities in the watersheds, Schwartz said. The amounts total $400,000 for stormwater planning and $400,000 for wastewater planning.
At the urging of the county, Wisconsin DNR and the UW-Extension, the coalition has formed and in the proposal process, MSA was selected to guide planning efforts, Schwartz said.
“As the area grows, we’re looking at how the area can grow smarter,” Schwartz said. “I’m not here to tell you what to do, but to give you planning options. We are looking to make a blueprint for wastewater options as the area develops, and some areas are growing to be more urbanized.”
Schwartz said the designated planning funds must be spent in the next five years, or they will be absorbed back into the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
Schwartz detailed three phases of the coalition’s efforts. The coalition includes the towns of Somerset and St. Joseph, the villages of Deer Park and Star Prairie and the City of New Richmond. The Village of Somerset and the towns of Richmond, Stanton, Star Prairie and Cylon have been invited to join.
Phase 1 has basically involved organizing the coalition to be a functioning body with a technical advisory committee, which includes members from MSA, the county and the DNR, Schwartz said.
“It’s a plan to develop a plan,” Schwartz said. “What do we want to accomplish?”
Phase 2 has been started by collecting planning documents, annexation agreements and studies from communities for their stormwater and wastewater plans and looking at the capacity of rivers and how much water they can yet receive.
According to Schwartz, the Willow River is at capacity for water it can receive from stormwater. Any new water discharged into the river would need to be treated to the point of being more clean than drinking water, or be routed somewhere else. The Apple River is not yet at capacity, but that could happen with growth and development.
“Remember too, everything that happens upstream in the watershed has a direct impact on communities downstream,” Schwartz said. “That’s why a uniform set of standards and a level playing field is important. It’s about protecting surface and ground waters.”
A scoping document will be written in Phase 3, which will help the coalition identify funding sources for stormwater and wastewater projects, parsing out what’s available to each unique community, tracking time and materials community’s invest in the coalition’s efforts, and maintaining public education while teaching municipalities how to manage growth.
Schwartz advised that ponds and areas of flooding the village is responsible for should be identified as well.
After Schwartz’s presentation, the board had a few questions, including the benefits to the village of joining the coalition.
Village President Jeff Johnson said his biggest concern is that the Metropolitan Council will get involved. Schwartz assured him that the Met Council has not expressed interest in the coalition.
“Nothing comes without a cost to the big beast,” Johnson said.
The Metropolitan Council or Met Council is the regional governmental agency and metropolitan planning organization in Minnesota serving the Twin Cities seven-county metropolitan area.
Johnson pointed out regulations from the Clean Water Act will be enforced at some point, including regulation of pasture runoffs, annual inspections and inventories of ponds, and maybe now is the time to get moving on stormwater and wastewater planning.
Public Works Supervisor Bob Gunther said the wastewater treatment plant in Somerset is already at capacity, and something will need to be done with it even if there is no growth.
Schwartz advised the board to consider joining the coalition, and suggested possibly updating the village stormwater ordinance.
“For once, planning money is available prior to growth,” Schwartz said. “That is rare.”