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Colfax committee recommends lagoon bank restoration fund

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX — The Colfax Village Board’s public works committee is recommending that the village board establish a lagoon bank restoration fund with a beginning amount of $10,000 for the 2015 budget.

The public works committee discussed the lagoon bank restoration at a meeting November 13.

Although she has already moved to Florida, Jackie Ponto, administrator-clerk-treasurer, attended the meeting by speaker phone.

“It is in the village’s best interest to establish a lagoon bank restoration fund,” she said.

Over the years, the Red Cedar River has carved away portions of the bank between the river and the village’s wastewater treatment lagoons.

So much of the river bank has washed away that it is possible to imagine how one or two torrential rainfalls, under the right conditions, could wash out the lagoons and send them down the river toward Tainter Lake.

Earlier this year, the Colfax Village Board authorized Ponto to seek a grant from the Army Corps of Engineers for restoring the river bank.

The Army Corps of Engineers has indicated that the agency is between grant cycles and no money is currently available.

Not all of the project will be grant eligible, and the village will have to cover part of the cost of restoring the bank, Ponto said.

The village has received two estimates for restoring the river bank, noted Rand Bates, director of public works.

One estimate from the engineering firm of Short, Elliott and Hendrickson (SEH), estimated the cost at close to $300,000, he said.

Another estimate after a study conducted by the Tainter Menomin Lake Improvement Association places the cost at around $180,000, Bates said.

Ponto said the village would most likely have to borrow the money when it comes time to fix the river bank and suggested that the village start off with between $10,000 and $25,000 in the fund.

In response to a question about deadlines from Mark Halpin, village trustee, Bates said that the state Department of Natural Resources has not yet given a deadline for the bank restoration process.

Bates also noted, however, that every time, or nearly every time, he talks to Tom Ponty, the DNR’s wastewater engineer assigned to Chippewa, Dunn and Eau Claire counties, Ponty asks about the river bank by the lagoons and wonders where the village is in the process of restoration.

Beverly Schauer, village trustee and chair of the public works committee, suggested that the village begin with $20,000 to start the fund.

Halpin suggested $15,000.

Scott Gunnufson, village president, suggested $10,000 to start.

Members of TMLIA have expressed a willingness to help in all parts of the process of restoring the river bank to protect the lagoons, Bates said.

A study commissioned by TMLIA to identify erosion sites along the Red Cedar River found nearly 60 sites in all, including the Colfax wastewater treatment lagoons.

A rainstorm in August of 2010 dumped close to eight inches of rain across the area in about two hours.

Stormwater runoff coming from the area south of the lagoons and draining toward the river created more washouts along the river bank that crept closer to the lagoons.

The DNR has not said that Colfax must fix the river bank now, “but they are concerned,” Bates said.

“We can at least get a fund started, but maybe we won’t have to do (the repairs) for five years,” he said.

“We are watching it all the time,” he added.

Over the past few decades, the erosion along the river bank has created what Bates describes as a “vast washout” that would require many tons of fill to replace.

Former village president Gary Stene and retired public works employee Mike Boyd have both said during past conversations about the river bank that they can recall a time when there was perhaps one hundred more feet of land in the area by the wastewater lagoons that has now washed down the river.

The Colfax public works committee unanimously approved that the village board establish a bank restoration account with a beginning amount of $10,000.

In addition to Schauer, as chair of the committee, and Village President Scott Gunnufson, Village Trustee Susan Olson serves on the public works committee.

Village Trustee Halpin said he attended the meeting as “a visitor.”

Other business

In other business, the Colfax public works committee reviewed the proposed 2015 budgets for the water and sewer utilities.

The water utility proposed budget for 2015 includes $295,577 in expenses compared to $261,890 in revenue, representing a loss of $33,687.

The sewer utility proposed budget for 2015 includes $252,027 in expenses compared to $178,100 in revenue, representing a loss of $73,927.

The water and sewer utility budgets are not part of the tax levy, Ponto noted.

Water rates are regulated by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin, and the water rates were last raised in 2012, she said.

The sewer utility is not regulated by the PSC, Ponto said.

When water rates are increased, the municipality must wait two years for a report from the PSC before the water rates can be increased again, she said.

Bates wondered about increasing the rates at a half a percent per year, and Ponto agreed that small increments every year would work better than a large increase all at once.

After reviewing a water utility’s revenues and expenses, the PSC determines the rate increase.

For a deregulated sewer utility, the municipality’s governing body determines the rate increase.