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Continued: Farther-out Twin Cities suburbs worry about Met Council forecasts

  • Article by: DAVID PETERSON , Star Tribune
  • Last update: March 4, 2014 - 12:48 PM

“There simply are not enough people behind the boomers [in age] to replace those households.”

What to do about water plant?

In Elko New Market, administrator Terry stresses that the city would not be creating a new treatment plant at all right now, given the growth uncertainties, were it not for the fact that there are problems with city water.

Not only is it rusty and hard, so that the vast majority of households have water softeners; some of it also bears traces of potentially harmful radium, so much so that state health officials have pressed for treated water.

“Radium is a naturally occurring element within deep bedrock wells,” Terry said. “A lot of cities have it, but they also have water treatment facilities in place to improve quality — and the fringe benefit for them is elimination of radium.”

The city, he adds, has taken a modest approach in sizing the plant for just a tiny fraction of the 80,000 people it expects to have in the distant future, given its proximity to I-35. It sought a site that could house multiple expansions years from now, assuming that growth comes to pass.

Still, it couldn’t be a more glaring example of the uncertainties of future growth, considering that Elko New Market has by far the biggest reduction in growth prospects of any city in Scott or Dakota counties, whether measured by ­population numbers or percentages.

The decision on the size of the plant was made before the Met Council projections emerged, Terry said.

“We did have some discussions after they came out. But in the end they didn’t have an impact. We identified a project that was large enough to be efficient and provide capacity for growth, but one that we could reasonably afford even under very conservative projections.”

During the exurban land rush, Elko New Market — first two towns, then a merged entity — was one of the ­fastest-growing communities in the state. It multiplied several times over, from mere hamlets of just a few hundred people to 4,110 in 2010.

That was much less, though, than the 5,700 that the Met Council had expected by 2010, as the housing collapse and rising gas prices bit deeply into growth expectations.

Partly for environmental reasons, as there was danger to a pristine trout stream nearby, the Met Council brought costly sewer pipe out to Elko New Market during the growth spurt, making a major investment in a community that it then saw as a growth target.

During the boom, Elko New Market soared above 200 housing units added in a single year at its peak, 2003. By 2011, according to Met Council statistics, it was stagnant, with just four new units.

Today some exurbs are again seeing signs of life — notably Elko New Market. From four in 2011, the number of single-family homes started anew jumped to 27 in 2012 and to 40 in 2013, officials report.

Bottom line, Terry said:

“Regardless of any projections, we think we have growth potential. The market will determine what the growth actually is.”

David Peterson • 952-746-3285

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  • A car sped past downtown Elko New Market on County Road 2. The once-tiny hamlet had a big population jump, but forecasts have been scaled way back.

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