New rules could cost city of Elk River $500,000

by Paul Rignell
Contributing writer

Elk River is required to contribute toward restoring and keeping a clean Mississippi River. The city has been bound by regulations of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System since 2003. New obligations would be added with a revised permit that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency will consider for approval late this summer.

All communities along a river corridor from St. Cloud to Hastings may have to pay an estimated $850 million with new rules, and Elk River could owe as much as $500,000 in 2013, according to information that city staff shared with city council members at a work session April 9. For its physical contribution, the city may dredge the Lions Park wetland and also Lake Orono.

Yet, the city levied only $50,000 through property taxes for its stormwater program in 2012. Officials will consider charging stormwater utility fees to raise and meet the greater obligations. Stan Hanson, municipal engineer with Stantec Consulting of St. Cloud, presented one potential formula last week that the city could adopt to implement fees. Council members authorized Stantec to conduct the analysis last November.

To determine an average residential lot size in Elk River, the study measured lots in four developments — Meadowvale Heights, 2nd Addition; Trout Brook Farms, 8th Addition; Westwood, and Country Crossing. The average lot size was computed as 15,385 square feet, or 0.35 acres. More importantly, the average lot was found to include 21 percent impervious surface (or 3,231 square feet) from which stormwater would drain off of that property.

Hanson reported there are 7,347 single-family residential lots, or residential equivalency units (REUs), in Elk River, and enough land surface on commercial and industrial lots in the city to equal another 10,826 REUs.

The city could consider following other Minnesota cities’ leads, Hanson said, by charging a flat monthly fee for each home REU, and then figure fees for commercial and industrial properties based on their impervious square footage. For comparison, Hanson noted that the Elk River city campus on Orono Parkway totals 227,328 square feet of impervious surface, or more than 70 REUs.

Hanson said St. Cloud charges a monthly stormwater fee of $2.10 per REU, which is close to the average. “I’ve seen some as high as $5,” Hanson said.

If Elk River charged a monthly fee of $3 per REU, he noted, the owner of a lot with as much impervious surface as the city campus would be charged more than $210 per month and more than $2,530 annually.

City officials are awaiting more information from Stantec later this spring and would promote a public information meeting before making any changes to stormwater policy.