City council holds informational meeting for local residents

By Chad Koenen


With less than eight years remaining on a 30 year water service contract, the Ottertail City Council held a special information meeting on Wednesday night. The meeting was aimed at updating the public on its options for how water will be provided for the year 2029 and beyond. 

Approximately 30 people attended the meeting at the Ottertail Community Center that highlighted three different options for how the city could provide water to its residents. Currently, the City of Henning provides water to the City of Ottertail via a pipeline that connects the two communities. That contract will expire in 2029.

Bob Schlieman, of Apex Engineering, highlighted several options for Ottertail residents, including renegotiating the current contract with Henning, building a new well house, as well as constructing a water treatment facility. Schlieman said Ottertail has taken a high level look at its options, but before getting into the details more, wanted to get the input of local residents to gather their input on the matter as well. 

As part of the current contract, Henning charges Ottertail $2.08 per 1,000 gallons of water, but is seeking to increase that amount to $4.55 per thousand gallons, which was reportedly similar to what Henning residents are charged. 

According to figures presented by Schlieman the average monthly cost/connection for water in Ottertail is $52.99 apiece.

Under the first option, the city could agree to the higher purchase price of $4.55 and that cost would increase to $66.75 per month. 

A second proposal was to construct a new well house and not treat the water. The cost for this proposal would be $65.53, however, Schlieman said preliminary studies have shown this to not be a viable option due to the high levels of manganese and other contaminants.

The third option would be to construct a new well and water treatment facility, that was estimated to cost between $3.75 million and $4.5 million. The cost of that would be $109.83 per month for an average cost/connection. That would not include the cost of adding softener salt to the water, which is currently being done by the City of Henning. 

Each of these average cost/connection would decrease approximately $18 per month in 2023 when some existing debt comes off the books. 

One of the first questions asked by local residents was why Ottertail needed to even look at its current water contract since it doesn’t expire until 2029. 

According to Ottertail Mayor Ron Grobeck, the City of Henning has requested that the contract be renegotiated as Henning feels the current contract is not fair to that community. He said the two communities have met with the hopes of coming together on a renegotiated contract, but have yet to agree on a fair agreement for both sides.

“It is important to understand that our goal is to work with Henning,” said Grobeck. “That’s the ultimate goal we are trying to achieve, however, having said that it needs to be a two way street.”

For example, Grobeck said the City of Ottertail shouldn’t have to pay retail cost for its water, while also being responsible for Henning’s debt on things like the wastewater treatment plant. Ottertail is also responsible for paying for things like the pipeline between the two towns and some of its own infrastructure like its water tower. 

Another question was raised in regards to grants, which could be used to offset some of the cost of building a new wastewater treatment facility in Ottertail. 

Schlieman said his company works with a number of communities to obtain these grants, but one thing Ottertail has working against it is its median household income that is currently between $66,000-67,000. With having such a high median household income, Schlieman said it may be difficult for Ottertail to obtain a grant, but that doesn’t mean it can’t look into options like a local income survey to see if a different income survey can find a lower number. 

He said the city is also waiting for the latest information from the 2020 survey for the median household income to see if that can be a more favorable number to Ottertail residents.

“We definitely have our eye on some of these grant programs and are waiting for this new census information to come out,” he said. 

Several residents spoke in favor of building a new treatment plant in Ottertail, as opposed to contracting water out from the City of Henning, however, they requested more information in regards to possible grants and funding options. 

Other things Schlieman said to consider was that the City of Henning’s wastewater treatment plant was 20 years old and nearing the end of its life cycle. He said the City of Henning may also request help in repairing that in the future, which was not figured into the costs of water presented to the council. 

The council said it will take into consideration the feedback it received at the meeting and will continue to explore its options for providing water to residents.