EM approves attorney for phosphorus fight

By LeAnn R. Ralph

ELK MOUND —  If push comes to shove, Elk Mound will be ready.

The Elk Mound Village Board has approved a contract with an attorney from Madison to represent the village if the amount of phosphorus discharge becomes an issue for Elk Mound’s new wastewater permit.

The Elk Mound Village Board approved the contract with Angela James, an attorney with the law firm of Michael Best and Friedrich, at the November 6 meeting.

James works for $425 per hour and requires a $5,000 retainer, said Andy Peterson, village president.

Elk Mound’s wastewater permit expired at the end of June.

Applications for new permits are due six months before the permit expires, and Elk Mound filed the application last December.

The village still has not received the new permit, and no one knows what the new phosphorus and copper limits will be, said Terry Stamm, director of public works.

In the past, Elk Mound has received a variance for copper discharge.

New phosphorus rules adopted in 2010 could also present problems for the village’s wastewater permit.

The new rules require .1 parts per million of phosphorus for a river, while small streams have a limit of .075 parts per million. Lakes and flowages are set at .04 parts per million.

Wetlands have no phosphorus limit unless waterways are impacted downstream.

Elk Mound has a mechanical wastewater treatment plant and discharges to a wetland that eventually drains to Muddy Creek, which in turn drains to the Chippewa River.

Treating the wastewater to eliminate phosphorus discharge could cost Elk Mound tens of thousands of dollars, Stamm said.

The question is — what is in the best interests of the village, he said.

If spending $10,000 now saves $50,000 or more later on, spending $10,000 to fight a very low phosphorus limit would make sense, Stamm said.

The village does not need the representation of an environmental attorney at the moment, but approving the contract will allow money to be put into the budget if the services of an attorney are needed later on, Peterson said.

To find out how much phosphorus from Elk Mound’s discharge is polluting the environment, representatives for the DNR took samples from the wetland by Interstate-94.

“That was a bad place to sample. Closer to the creek would be better,” Peterson said.

Stamm and several village board members noted that farm fields surrounding the village could also be contributing to phosphorus levels in the samples taken from the wetland.

If the DNR sets a low phosphorus limit that will cost Elk Mound a significant amount of money, one task for the environmental attorney will be to fight against the DNR’s procedure of taking samples from a wetland close to farm fields, Peterson noted.

The village’s wastewater engineer, Paul Gont with Short Elliott Hendrickson (SEH), will be able to advise the village on which areas of the permit could be challenged, Stamm said.

“If we don’t challenge the permit, we’ll be stuck with it for five years,” he said.

The Elk Mound Village Board unanimously approved the agreement with Angela James.

Village board members agreed that the retainer would not be paid until after the DNR issues Elk Mound’s permit and the village board has had a chance to confer with Gont.

Phosphorus discharge has been an issue for Colfax for many years.

This summer, the Village of Colfax began treating the wastewater lagoons with aluminum sulfate as a pilot project to see how much phosphorus the alum will remove.

The annual cost of aluminum sulfate for Colfax is expected to be around $15,000.

Alum binds with the phosphorus and causes it to settle out to the bottom of the lagoon rather than being discharged into the Red Cedar River.

Other business

In other business, the Elk Mound Village Board:

• Approved University Street as the resurfacing project for 2014 and approved moving Garland Street down on the list in the five-year street improvement plan.

• Approved putting $5,000 left over from the Kings Court street project into the street projects savings account for the 2014 project. The savings account currently has $22,000, said Pat Hahn, village clerk-treasurer.

• Approved the village park lease agreement for junior varsity softball with the Elk Mound school district in the amount of $500.

• Approved a bartender operator’s license for Cala Feranec for The Pourhouse.

• Approved buying new chairs for village board members at a cost not to exceed $1,000.