Waukon City Council hears recommendation for taking action against Aveka for continued wastewater treatment agreement violations

by Joe Moses

The Waukon City Council met in a delayed regular session Tuesday, March 2 following the postponement of its usual Monday, March 1 meeting due to a lack of a quorum of council members for the meeting.

The meeting began with Mayor Pat Stone discussing changes to the agenda including the removal of an item relating to a services contract and maintenance agreement with Wright Way Computer Services, which he indicated was not ready for approval. Stone added that Water and Sewer Superintendent Jim Cooper would be providing his Department Report later in the meeting instead of during the typical early-meeting timeframe for such reports.

During Public Comment, Business Agent Dan Macdonald of the Chauffeurs, Teamsters and Helpers Union Local 238 commented on negotiations taking place between the Union and the City of Waukon relating to Public Works employees. Macdonald requested that the City of Waukon keep the current language in the contract the same as it has been the last 40 years, noting that there has not been issues between the City and workers in the past and that there is no reason to remove this language. Earlier this year at the January 4 council meeting, concerns pertaining to this matter were discussed relating to the removal of permissive language from the contract with that language instead proposed to be added to the City’s employee handbook to create a more uniform employment situation within the City.

Under Department Reports, Library Director Cate St. Clair of Robey Memorial Library discussed programming taking place in March including the 21-Day Challenge with parents and caregivers reading aloud to children for 15 minutes each day. St. Clair recommended visiting the library’s website at www.waukon.lib.ia.us for more details on this program that encourages making reading aloud to children part of a daily routine. St. Clair noted that videos of library staff reading aloud will be posted to social media in addition to the daily links for online Story Time that are available on the library’s webpage. St. Clair discussed the Catalog Search tab also on the library’s webpage with a “Staff Recommends” option to see reading materials recommended by specific staff members. St. Clair also provided an update on restroom maintenance and repairs at the library.

Park, Recreation and Wellness Director Jeremy Strub reported that adult volleyball is ongoing with youth soccer to start in approximately a month. Strub advised that advertising is in place seeking Summer Recreation employees, including lifeguards, and that materials are being ordered in preparation for reopening the swimming pool. Strub reported that the use of the Wellness Center is increasing and provided an update relating to the facility’s HVAC system. Strub discussed an estimate to repair the heating portion of the HVAC system at just under $6,000, an expense to be shared between the Allamakee Community School District and the City of Waukon, which he indicated is much less than what will be necessary to repair the air conditioning portion of the system. Strub added that the Wellness Center’s air conditioning repairs will need to wait until warmer weather to allow accurate system testing to take place. City Manager Gary Boden discussed moving forward, with the repair estimate cost within an amount allowed administratively rather than requiring official action by the council. Strub also advised that the ice skating rink, located within the tennis courts near Waukon High School and the Wellness Center, would likely continue to be available for the remainder of the week as weather allows.

Street Superintendent Keith Burrett noted that preparations are being made for the spring season with equipment maintenance taking place. Burrett added that maintenance and repairs are being performed on the street sweeper with downtown street sweeping anticipated to start the following week, prior to the March 14 St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Burrett also discussed options available for the sale or trade-in of a dump truck and street patcher. He and council members Arvid Hatlan and John Lydon discussed the increased longevity of a stainless steel dump truck box as an option to consider with the purchase of a new dump truck.

Assistant Police Chief Luke Inglett provided an update indicating that work is continuing in moving back into the newly remodeled Police Station. Inglett added that some cracks have been found in a portion of the concrete poured last year in the Police Station driveway with the contractor recommending that the ground be allowed to settle and to evaluate any damages in warmer temperatures when snow and frost are no longer factors.

City Clerk Sarah Snitker discussed submitting a grant application for the Derelict Building Program to assist in funding the masonry and brick repair on the south wall of the former Tierney’s/JCPenney building. Snitker advised that the City will be notified about the grant’s approval status in April and if approved, funds would be available in July.

Boden provided the City Manager’s Report which included an update on a request to use grant funding to tear down a building on Fourth Avenue SE. Boden also discussed a letter that has been drafted to Iowa House District 56 Representative Anne Osmundson to oppose the passage of Iowa House Study Bill 194 (IA HSB 194) which Boden indicated would have a negative impact upon the ability to use tax increment financing (TIF), which Boden described as being an essential tool of economic and community development for small cities and rural communities.

As part of the Mayor’s Report, Stone discussed recent communications with  Veterans Memorial Hospital (VMH) CEO Michael Coyle relating to the development of a 28E agreement, a cooperative agreement between a government and other entities, relating to a new ambulance purchase. Stone indicated that Coyle is preparing figures specific to townships and City of Waukon contributions necessary for this ambulance purchase. Stone also discussed the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and other events.

The council moved into the Resolution approving detailed plans, specifications and ordering Notice of Hearing, Notice to Bidders and Form of Contract for the 2021 Street Improvement Project. Senior Project Manager Lyle TeKippe of Fehr Graham Engineering provided an update on the bidding process with bids to be received by March 10 and to be reviewed at the March 15 City Council meeting. TeKippe advised that six companies have expressed some initial interest in viewing the details relating to this project involving 15 blocks of resurfacing. Boden noted that the engineer’s estimate from TeKippe is in line with what the City has budgeted for this project. The council approved the Resolution as presented.

A request for direction relating to the preparation of documents for the development and sale of one duplex unit at 105 First Street NW was next addressed by the council. Boden provided an update on the matter and noted that the City would serve as the developer of this property with a company initially expressing interest in this development role choosing to not pursue the project. City Attorney Kevin Stinn provided additional details relating to the sale of this duplex when completed with the disposition of City property requiring a public hearing prior to approval by the council.

Council member John Ellingson discussed the need for additional housing in Waukon and recommended that this project continue to move forward. Boden echoed similar thoughts relating to housing demand in Waukon. Ellingson added that the removal of a nuisance structure at this location was an improvement for the community and has had a positive effect on property values in that neighborhood. Boden further discussed the City’s role as developer with the proposed duplex to be sold at construction costs and lot value, making this housing purchase available below market rate and attractive to buyers. The council approved to prepare documents for the development and sale of one duplex at 105 First Street NW.

The council moved into discussion of selling the City-owned former C-Mart property at 520 West Main Street and 4 Sixth Street SW. Jeff Allison of Waukon discussed his interest in developing these properties into two- to three-bedroom single family homes with construction to be completed within one year of taking possession of the properties. Allison proposed a $15,000 purchase price per lot and indicated that single family housing would be good use of these now vacant lots.

Council members John Lydon and Ellingson both noted that the City is interested in selling these properties but with a development agreement in place. Ellingson added that the development agreement would include specifics relating to appearance requirements and consistency with other homes on West Main Street. Council member Gayle Decker advised that the City develop these requirements and additionally put these lots out to bid. Boden added that the City, with specific requirements, could either put the lots out to bid or negotiate a sale. Ellingson and Lydon, both members of the Housing Committee, scheduled a meeting with Allison to further discuss his plans. No action was taken by the council.

Allison addressed the next agenda item relating to the sale of property at 110 Twelfth Street NW indicating that he is interested in purchasing this lot for the construction of a personal residence for himself with construction to be performed by the Waukon High School (WHS) Construction Class. Boden and the council advised that Allison follow up with Waukon Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), which owns the lot being discussed and is in partnership with WHS for these construction projects. WEDC Director Ardie Kuhse recommended that Allison attend the March 10 WEDC meeting to make a proposal on this matter with Allison agreeing to do so. No action was taken by the council.

Mayor Stone discussed including the St. Patrick’s Day Parade agenda item for discussion as the March 14 date of the event approaches. Snitker discussed the permitting and approval on the Department of Transportation (DOT) level. Having originally approved the parade permit at a previous meeting pending regulations and guidelines regarding COVID-19 mitigation - which have been lessened by Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds since that original council permit approval, the council was in agreement to move forward with the event with no further official action required to do so.

Boden provided an overview of the next matter relating to the development of a draft of a personnel manual for City employees. Boden and the council discussed a variety of matters to be added to this draft with the inclusion of some items that will no longer be part of the union contract. The council noted that there will be transparency in this process with all City departments and employees having the opportunity to review and provide feedback. The council approved to create a full employee manual with an emphasis on the union contract parts that need to be brought forth within the next 30 days.

Water and Sewer Superintendent Jim Cooper provided a Department Report indicating that a suspected water main break was instead a four-inch line break on private property with the owner being responsible for the cost of this repair.

Dr. Ed Askew, PhD with Askew Scientific Consulting provided a report relating to pH discharge violations at Aveka Nutra Processing in Waukon. Askew provided data and discussed specifics relating to violations in Aveka’s treatment agreement with the City, including discharges outside of the 5-10 pH range of acidity and alkalinity. According to Askew’s more recent data, Aveka’s pH discharge levels were in violation for 141.93 hours in January 2021 and 93.73 hours in February 2021. Askew indicated that Aveka has consistently failed to meet the pH discharge limit requirements specified within its wastewater treatment agreement.

Askew provided a recommendation that the City of Waukon act immediately to address this problem prior to the new Wastewater Treatment Plant going online in May of this year. Askew’s recommendation advised that the City use Chapter 4 of its City Ordinance to levy fines severe enough that these violations will be addressed with a compliance schedule to be implemented by Aveka, with these matters to be corrected before Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulatory action is taken against the City of Waukon. Askew discussed options available including fines to be levied against Aveka at $1,000 per day retroactively.

Prior to adjournment, the council moved into closed session per Iowa Code Section 21.5 (1)(c) to discuss strategy with counsel in matters that are presently in litigation or where litigation is imminent where its disclosure would be likely to prejudice or disadvantage the position of the government body in that litigation.

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