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By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers listed possible solutions for the Red Cedar River eroding the bank and washing out the Colfax wastewater lagoons, they reported that relocating the facility would cost $10 million.
In addition to the high cost of moving the lagoons, there also would be the complication of finding a suitable site, said Jon Strand, a project engineer with CBS Squared, at the Colfax Village Board’s public hearing on the application for Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to be used for stabilizing the river bank.
The Colfax Village Board has hired CBS Squared to write an application for CDBG funds.
The entire cost of stabilizing the river bank, according to information from the Army Corps of Engineers, would be about $1.7 million, and while federal funds would cover 65 percent of the cost, the village of Colfax would have to pay 35 percent, or about $600,000.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently recalculated the income eligibility of Colfax residents. People in the village are now considered to be low to moderate income, which qualifies the village to apply for CDBG funds.
Colfax can apply for up to $1 million but must provide $500,000 in matching funds.
The money from the Army Corps of Engineers is considered to be matching funds, so Colfax could be awarded the village’s share of $600,000 as grant funding, and the only cost to the village would be $35,000 to $40,000 to CBS Squared for the grant application, grant administration and project oversight.
Receiving the grant would reduce the village’s expenditure from $600,000 to $35,000 to $40,000, Strand said.
Finding a way to pay for 35 percent of the project cost is the challenge for the village without raising the sewer rates so high that the low to moderate income residents cannot pay for the sewer utility, he said.
Although the Army Corp of Engineers came to Colfax to view the erosion problem in December of 2014 and wrote the report in 2016, the village noticed a problem with the river bank eroding long before that, said Gary Stene, village president.
In August of 2010, a thunderstorm that dumped up to eight inches of rain around the area caused the bank to erode even more from stormwater run-off.
Over the last 20 years, the Red Cedar River has come much closer to the lagoons, and perhaps one hundred and two feet of the bank has disappeared, Stene said.
The village’s share of the project “was large,” and the village board has been “looking and looking for a way to pay for it,” Stene said.
Then HUD revised the eligibility and Colfax became eligible to apply for a grant, he said.
In grant applications, part of the write-up deals with what would happen if the project is not completed, Strand said.
If the river bank is not stabilized, then eventually, because of spring flooding or heavy thunderstorms, there would be a catastrophic failure and the lagoons would wash out into the river, he said.
If the wastewater treatment lagoons wash out and dump raw sewage into the river, there would be an impact on wildlife, an impact on people living downstream and impacts on Tainter Lake and Lake Menomin, Strand said.
In addition, the village would have to find a temporary way to handle wastewater, and the health of village residents would be put at risk with no wastewater treatment facility. Businesses, such as restaurants, also would be impacted because they would not be able to operate without a sewer system, Strand said.
The Army Corps of Engineers is ready to complete the design for the project and then put the project out for bids, he said.
“The grant money could not have come at a better time (but) it is not guaranteed,” Strand said.
The grant applications are scored by points, and Colfax must get as many points as possible in the scoring process, he said.
“Project need” scores well on the grant application, Strand noted.
Mark Halpin, village trustee, asked how many other municipalities would be in competition during this particular grant cycle.
Maybe 20 or 30, Strand replied.
HUD has a certain amount of money to distribute, and Colfax is not asking for the entire $1 million that the village could ask for, he said.
The $1 million “match” from the Army Corps of Engineers means that Colfax is “over matched” in matching funds for the grant application, but being over matched scores more points than being “under matched,” Strand said.
One question that will be asked is could the Army Corps do a simpler project at less cost, and the answer to that is, “no,” he said.
The Army Corps of Engineers has devised a solution that will protect the lagoons from washing out into the river for 50 years, he said.
Kathy Stahl, one of the attendees at the public hearing, asked the intensity of the flood event that the project designed by the Army Corps would withstand.
The project would install two-foot thick rock as rip-rap on a nine-inch bed, Strand said.
The level of the flood — 50 years, 100 years, 500 years — does not matter as much as how high the water in the river would rise, he said.
The problem by the lagoons is an erosion issue and not so much a flood issue; a rainstorm of 10 inches, or eight inches or six inches, depending on how hard it rains, can do more damage to the river bank in that area than a big flood event, Strand said.
Stahl wondered what would happen if the lagoon levee were breached this summer.
“Then it would become an emergency situation,” Strand said.
There would be no wastewater treatment plant, and the Army Corps looks at the ramifications of what a failure of the levee would mean, he said.
At that point, the lagoon levee would have to rebuilt and then the rip-rap would have to be completed, Strand said.
Stene, a lifelong Colfax resident, noted that the course of the river near Colfax has changed four times in his lifetime.
Stene also serves on the Dunn County Board and said the county is dealing with an erosion issue on County Highway M and that the river has changed course six or seven times over the last 60 or 70 years in that area.
The public hearing began at 6:30 and adjourned at 7 p.m., followed by the regular village board meeting.
At the village board meeting that followed the public hearing, the village board approved several ordinances and resolutions necessary for the CDBG grant application.
• Fair Housing Ordinance — An ordinance to repeal and replace Chapter 13 of the village’s ordinances that was updated with language acceptable to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
• Resolution to adopt a relocation plan and an anti-discrimination policy — HUD requires the plan and policy in the event a municipality must relocate residents as a result of the project for which the municipality is receiving CDBG funding.
• Resolution prohibiting excessive use of force and barring entrances/exits for non-violent civil rights demonstrations — This is a federal requirement and in addition to civil rights demonstrations also prohibits excessive use of force to remove people from public meetings.
• Resolution authorizing the submission of a community development block grant application — After the public hearing, the village board is recommending the application be submitted for CDBG funds for the wastewater treatment plant bank stabilization project.
• Resolution authorizing the acceptance of a Community Development Block Grant Award — The resolution authorizes the village president as the representative for the Village of Colfax to accept the award of a grant [if it is awarded] and also is authorized to do everything necessary in connection with the award and funding.
• Resolution authorizing the village’s commitment to providing matching funds — Lynn Niggemann, village administrator-clerk-treasurer, has spoken to representatives from Dairy State Bank and Bremer Bank. If the CDBG money is not awarded, the village will borrow $630,000 to complete the wastewater treatment plant bank stabilization project. If the village signs the agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers, the village’s grant application will score more points, Strand said, noting that it still is not a guarantee the village will receive CDBG funds.
• Reviewed the acquisition, relocation and demolition questionnaire —The river bank stabilization project does not require any demolition but the village board must still acknowledge that it has reviewed the questionnaire.
• Reviewed potential fair housing actions, which includes enacting, strengthening or advertising a local fair housing law; the local governing body or the chief elected official publicly endorsing the principle of fair housing and of adherence to the fair housing law in the form of a proclamation, resolution or similar publicized statement of importance; displaying a fair housing poster or providing fair housing information at an appropriate public place.
• Reviewed the statement of assurances, which is to be signed and initialed by the village president and the village clerk — The assurances include that the project cannot start prior to the grant award, and certain procedures must be taken first, including but not limited to, completing the environmental review process; requesting federal wage rates if applicable; establishing base employment levels for job-related projects; and entering into a development agreement with the participating business if applicable and developing a system for tracking job retention and/or low-to-middle-income benefit.
• Reviewed the lobbying certification, which was signed by the village president and administrator-clerk-treasurer — The certification certifies that no federal appropriated funds have been or will be paid to lobby an officer or employee of a federal agency, a member of Congress, an employee of a member of Congress in connection with awarding any federal contract, making of a federal grant, the making of a federal loan, the entering into a cooperative agreement and the extension, renewal, amendment or modification of a federal contract, grant, loan or cooperative agreement.
• Reviewed the citizen participation certification for the first public hearing, which was signed by the village president and the administrator-clerk-treasurer.