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MPCA: Akeley wastewater ponds no reason for concern

Akeley's wastewater treatment ponds have become the topic of conversation of late, specifically the weed growth on the perimeter.

Former council member Alf Staffenhagen raised concerns that with weed proliferation the ponds could become habitat for beaver, muskrat or geese. Muskrat and beaver have been known to chew holes in the lining, which can be costly to repair, he asserts.

Staffenhagen advocated additional mowing and spraying of weeds, maintenance supervisor Frank Thelin in his crosshairs.

Staffenhagen and Thelin have developed a contentious relationship over the issue, which has led to requests for restraining orders by both parties.

But Phil Larson of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, who surveyed the ponds last month, said the wastewater treatment ponds are not of concern. He acknowledged the weed growth, but said he'd seen far worse and did not view the ponds as imperiled.

Wednesday, former mayor Tom Moore arrived to convey concerns on the matter.

Council member Cliff Johnson, who conducted research on the issue, said he was told by the MPCA that the ponds are in compliance. They have been sprayed with chemicals in accordance with requirements, Johnson told Moore.

Johnson said Larson told him he was surprised by the complaints, given the condition of the ponds. "There is absolutely no reason for alarm," Johnson said the MPCA inspector told him. And the city's paperwork is up to date.

Staffenhagen has alleged Walker's ponds "got away from them" at considerable cost to the city. But Johnson said Walker officials told him the information was inaccurate.

"Walker has never had citations, nor have they ever lost a pond," Johnson told Moore Wednesday. The dry ponds are seepage ponds, he explained, not damaged.

Staffenhagen, who was unable to attend the meeting for health reasons, has also indicated that the sewage treatment ponds should not be fenced and gated, that they should be accessible to the public.

Moore said "rumors were getting around that a few people wanted to see the ponds," but this had been disallowed, further rankling constituents and raising questions.

Johnson indicated from a liability standpoint this is "a big no-no on the city's part."

Mayor Jennifer Mitchell agreed, stating she'd consulted with the League of Minnesota Cities on the matter.

"I hope this terror campaign comes to an end," Johnson reprimanded.

Moore stated he'd heard one of the ponds was "getting out of hand with muskrats," and other Akeley ponds have had to be rebuilt.

Johnson clarified that this was clay compaction, which cracked, causing water seepage. "It had nothing to do with them being run over by weeds or muskrats."

Johnson told Moore if he was to launch a write-in campaign for council "you might want to start checking the facts."

Mitchell said her decision not to conduct a tour of the ponds, which she'd initially agreed to, had been based on advice from the LMC.

"Nobody planned on falling in the pond," Moore said.

Mitchell called the request a "witch hunt," indicating a proactive community group would be welcome to address this and other issues, but not on a contentious platform.