Damage is still being assessed at the Northfield wastewater facility after a May 29 fire, but early signs are less than promising.

According to Northfield Public Works Director Dave Bennett, the fire caused “catastrophic damage” in the biosolids building. He said operations in that building will be down for six to 12 months and equipment could cost somewhere around $4.5 million to 5 million to repair. In addition, the city needs to haul sludge that would normally be processed in the biosolids building to other communities, which could cost $1 million on its own, according to Bennett.

The biosolids building is not key to the wastewater treatment process, so the damage won’t impact residents. Much of the repair costs will be covered by insurance provided by the League of Minnesota Cities, but the city’s liability is yet to be determined, as the League is still investigating the cause of the fire.

The council voted 6-0 Tuesday to declare a local emergency, so city staff can immediately bring in clean up crews and start planning for repairs. Councilor Suzie Nakasian was absent.

“If we don’t move quickly, [the biosolids building will be down] longer,” Bennett said. “What we’re doing here is getting the process expedited to get things cleaned up and get the new equipment in place.”

Mayor Rhonda Pownell noted that the city’s Capital Improvement Plan already called for the equipment at the biosolids building to be replaced in 2021. The fire means that action is moving up a few years.

The fire

A fire broke out at the city of Northfield wastewater treatment plant late May 29, damaging the building’s interior and keeping staff out of the building throughout most of Wednesday.

Fire fighters were on scene at 1450 Hwy. 3 N into the early hours Wednesday, according to Bennett. The fire was contained in the biosolids building. Biosolids are organic materials resulting from the treatment of domestic sewage.

One of the pieces of equipment in the building caught fire when nobody was there. City staff and the League of Minnesota Cities are trying to determine if the fire was related to a mechanical issue or a result of the process where a chemical is added to the system.

The fire caused some damage to lights, pipes and other items in the building. According to Public Utilities Manager Justin Wagner, equipment used in a pasteurization process was destroyed.

In January, part of the wastewater plant flooded, causing between $200,000 and $300,000 in damage. The City Council voted at that time to declare a local emergency, so staff could immediately access unbudgeted funds for the necessary repairs.

In the case of the flooding, equipment needed to be repaired immediately for the plant to return to normal operation.

Reach Associate Editor Philip Weyhe at 507-645-1115 or follow him on Twitter @nfnphilweyhe.

©Copyright 2018 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

Northfield News and Faribault Daily News reporter. Email at pweyhe@northfieldnews.com. Call at 507-333-3132.

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