The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) awarded a $128,143 Natural Resources Block Grant to Hubbard County Environmental Services Office (ESO).

The funding goes toward local water management ($26,490), the Wetland Conservation Act ($50,206), shoreland management ordinance administration ($16,868) in 2020 and 2021 and septic treatment system administration and upgrades ($34,579) in 2020.

“It’s not enough to cover the full cost of those programs, but that’s been the chronic state with the state and I don’t see that changing,” ESO Director Eric Buitenwerf told county commissioners last week. “Thankfully, they moved to a biennial (grant) application, so that cuts down on some of the cost for us. The dollar amounts are essentially unchanged from what they’ve been the last few years.”

The Hubbard County Board approved the grant agreement with BWSR.

Of the grant amount, Buitenwerf said $15,979 will be used to assist low-income homeowners with needed subsurface sewage treatment system (SSTS) upgrades. This is the second time the county has received this funding, he noted, but ESO has had “an extremely difficult time getting it distributed.” If it is not used, the money must be returned to the state, he said.

County commissioner Char Christenson asked, “Do we need to advertise or let the public know the money is available?”

“Oh, we have been, and we’ve got a number of folks that are in arrears, as far as upgrading systems. They qualify. They’ve been notified, and for whatever reason, they are not getting applications turned in. It’s a bit of a head scratcher,” replied Buitenwerf.

County commissioner David De La Hunt asked if qualifications could be changed.

They are set by the state, Buitenwerf said, adding applicants primarily must have a failing system and meet the income guidelines.

De La Hunt asked how much of the system upgrade is covered by the grant.

Buitwenwerf said that is at the discretion of the ESO on a case-by-case basis. “Because we have so few applicants – I think I’ve awarded one, so far – we fully funded that one. We might have a second one coming in. Historically, we’ve done around 60 percent.”

Christenson asked for the cost of an average septic system.

Depending on whether it is underground or above ground, Buitenwerf said costs range between $10,000 and $15,000.

Christenson said she could see how coming up with $3,200 would be cost-prohibitive for some landowners. “That would be significant,” she said.

De La Hunt wondered if the percentage of coverage would increase, maybe more people would apply.

Buitenwerf said one land owner “is thumbing his nose at the county,” but it’s unclear why others aren’t filling out an application.

“It’s for the good of the county that the systems are upgraded,” Christenson said.

“It’s to the point, I don’t think I’ll re-up for other grant opportunities after this go-around because it shouldn’t be this difficult to give away free money,” Buitenwerf said.