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Sump pump ordinance change OK’ed, but there are requirements

Mike Christopherson
Crookston Times

    A City of Crookston ordinance change will allow local residents in the winter months, from Nov. 1 to March 31, to discharge their sump-pump water into the City’s sanitary sewer system, but with the change comes a requirement that residents who do so apply for and receive a seasonal waiver, pay a $50 fee, and also get an City annual inspection.

    The ordinance received its second reading this week and the council unanimously approved the resolution.

    At Large Council Member Tom Vedbraaten said the more flexible ordinance was a “great idea” when it was initially proposed as part of a larger effort on the City’s behalf to be more “customer-friendly” to its residents/constituents – the recently approved water bill discount for homeowners who flood skating rinks in the winter or fill large swimming pools in the summer is another example – but he said he’s not a fan of the waiver, fee and inspection requirements that are coming with the change.

    “We’re putting too much into this,” Vedbraaten said.

    Public Works Director Pat Kelly said that the majority of communities who allow sump pump drainage into the sanitary sewer system also require an annual permit, for a fee, and inspection, the latter of which would be to assure that the property owner after March 31 has removed the discharge water connection from the sanitary sewer.

    “We’re talking about putting water into the system that’s not supposed to be there, so the City needs to check to make sure (property owners are removing their sump pump drainage from the sanitary sewer after March 31), and there’s a cost to the City to do that,” Kelly said. “The fee is not unreasonable.”

    It’s much preferred that the City have the knowledge, through the waiver, fee and inspection, of who’s taking advantage of the ordinance change, Kelly continued, rather than a “free-for-all with everyone hooking into the system because it’s all free.”

    It’s not that anyone is pretending that doesn’t happen. With the high water table in several Crookston neighborhoods, sump pump drainage hoses extending to curbsides during the spring melt and throughout the warmer months are a common sight. But there are also sump pump hoses draining where they aren’t supposed to be, especially in the winter months, where, in some areas where the water table is the highest, the pumps continue to run periodically. In those areas, property owners want to avoid hoses freezing up outside, so they might find another outlet for drainage.

    In a similar vein, Vedbraaten said some north-end properties have drain tiling that drains “right into our system” and, therefore, they don’t even need a sump pump. Kelly said he’s aware of that as well, and that both locally and at the state level, the choice has been made so far “not to tackle” that matter. “But eventually that days’s going to come,” he added.

    In “high-water springs,” Mayor Dale Stainbrook noted that property owners’ drainage entering the sanitary sewer is a “big stress” on the system. That spurred Ward 1 Council Member Kristie Jerde to wonder if potentially stressing the City sewer system is why the ordinance wasn’t changed until now.

    “Most communities make this illegal, but this is something the council has requested, for staff to come up with this for those who want to get away from (their drainage hoses) freezing,” Kelly responded.

    “But if it’s a permit-type situation, we’ll have a handle on law-abiding people who come in to get a permit. If a situation arises, we’ll know who’s discharging into the system and we’ll know if we have a problem in a certain area,” Kelly continued. “Then when spring comes, people need to disconnect so it goes back into their yard and we can verify that.”

    While the ordinance change has been officially approved, City Administrator Amy Finch, asked by the Times about the $50 fee after this week’s discussion, said the fee itself is just a proposal at this point. It will be included in the list of all the City fees charged to residents for various services that comes before the council annually for discussion and a vote.