So plans were scaled back, and the new council reluctantly voted to move forward. The treatment plants, about a mile apart, were built along Highway 65 and opened last year.
Going forward, East Bethel will need the equivalent of 6,500 new households to hook up to the sewer to pay back the Met Council. Currently, it has around 60.
The Met Council has come under fire from current city officials, neighboring communities and a legislator who represents East Bethel. The project would not have happened without the agency’s financing, and the numbers didn’t add up, said Sen. Michelle Benson.
“The Met Council kept coming back with numbers until the math worked,” Benson said. “There were plenty of people in the community that saw Met Council’s math doesn’t make sense. … I would like to see the Met Council change some of their processes, so this can’t be done to another community.”
Neighboring Ham Lake also studied putting in a sewer but abandoned the idea because of the costs.
“We were running a parallel course for a while,” said Gary Kirkeide, a Ham Lake council member. “They chose one route, we chose another. … Absolutely they made a mistake. They should have reanalyzed what was going on in the economy and reassessed if they really want to take the risk of putting in a system like that.”
Kirkeide is also critical of the Met Council, saying its policies “could possibly harm citizens, especially when the elected officials in a city are not as sophisticated as they could be in dealing with these issues.”
But Bonnie Kollodge, a spokeswoman for the agency, stressed that East Bethel initiated the project as well as the population projections. The Met Council helped the city “achieve their local aspirations for growth.”
“East Bethel specifically requested wastewater service through the comprehensive planning process. The [Met] Council reviewed the city’s plan and agreed the city could put it into effect,” Kollodge said in a written statement.
She said the population forecasts for East Bethel were actually lowered by more than 10,000 at the Met Council’s insistence. “The 2030 growth forecasts that were agreed to represented a compromise between the Council and City. City forecasts were more ambitious than the Council’s, but it may be helpful background to note that the city’s population doubled between 1980 and 2005,” she wrote.
“The Council is not regulatory, but its role is to work collaboratively with communities to ensure that infrastructure and growth are synchronized,” Kollodge wrote.
East Bethel’s representative and the chairwoman of the 17-member Met Council, which is appointed by the governor, both declined to comment, saying through their spokeswoman that the project’s approval preceded them.
City Council Member Ronning says: “Neither one of us can really accept failure, either the Met Council or us. We have shared responsibility here.”
While far short of what’s needed, the project has had some impact. Two of the three businesses that are connected to the plants are new to East Bethel, and all three say reliable city services are critical to commercial growth.
Shaw Trucking, which has 47 full-time workers, moved from Ham Lake to East Bethel two years ago. Shaw is also working to develop a nearby property into 48 single-family homes.
The East Bethel 10 movie theater, which dates to the 1990s and is one of the city’s few retail businesses, is hooked up to the new system. Before that, it had its septic tanks pumped twice a week at a cost of $1,300 a month.