Northfield's wastewater treatment plant

(News file photo)

A fire broke out at the city of Northfield wastewater treatment plant late Tuesday night, causing damage to the building’s interior and keeping staff out of the building throughout most of Wednesday.

Though members of the Northfield Public Works Department are still reviewing the damage, Director Dave Bennett said costs for repair and replacement could reach as high as $1 million or above.

“Depends on the full extent of the damages,” he said. “Could takes months (to get the building back in running order) if new equipment is necessary. The equipment is expensive, if it can’t be repaired.”

Firefighters were on scene at 1450 Hwy. 3 N into the early hours Wednesday, according to Bennett. He said the fire was in the biosolids building. Biosolids are organic materials resulting from the treatment of domestic sewage in a wastewater treatment facility.

According to Bennett, all other processes at the plant were still operating, and city staff was not aware of any risk to the public. He noted that residents can continue operating as normal.

One of the pieces of equipment in the building caught fire when nobody was there. Staff is 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. Staff was unable to get inside and assess the damage early Wednesday, as conditions were still considered unsafe.

The biosolids building will shut down for the time being, but that shouldn’t affect the normal wastewater processes, according to Bennett. The city is contacting other cities and the Metropolitan Council to see if it can ship out material that would normally go through the biosolids process.

The city expects to have an updated damage report Thursday. It notified the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency of the incident Wednesday.

In January, part of the wastewater plant flooded, causing between $200,000 and $300,000 in repairs. 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. Bennett said the city may need to consider the same action this time, but that’s yet to be determined.

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

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