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City shows support for DENCO II storm water use plans

The City of Morris expressed support for the DENCO II ethanol plant's attempts to have state law changed so that city storm water can be used in ethanol production.

The Morris City Council on Tuesday approved a resolution of support for DENCO II's efforts.

Late last year, the city and DENCO II attempted to apply for a Minnesota Pollution Control demonstration grant to determine if storm water can be used efficiently for ethanol production.

However, as the application process progressed, the city and DENCO II learned that the grant only covered projects that would use sanitary sewer wastewater, not ground water. Since the city's treatment plant is about two miles away from the ethanol plant, it wouldn't be a feasible project.

But if the legislation can be changed to include storm water, the city's storm sewer outlets are very close to DENCO II. City Manager Blaine Hill said District 11 Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen and District 11A Rep. Torrey Westrom have been contacted about sponsoring the change in the state Senate and House.

DENCO II already is moving ahead with plans to use city storm water in production, regardless the status of the grant application, Hill said, adding that the council's vote of support Tuesday does not obligate the city to pay for a system to get storm water to DENCO II.

Under the grant's current criteria, only ethanol plants in Morris, Benson and Winnebago are eligible to apply. The grant would be a 50-50 match with the city, with up to $75,000 used for predesign and design. Of the $15,000 portion for predesign, the city and DENCO II would split the costs if the grant is approved. The design portion would only come into play if the city and DENCO II decide to eventually move ahead with the project.

DENCO II has water issues related to the hardness of the water it must process for ethanol production. Plant officials say storm water is softer and wouldn't require as much processing, allowing the plant to reduce the amount of water it uses each day, the amount it discharges, and the energy needed to process the water.

The city benefits by having some of its storm water taken out of its system. The grant stipulates that the project must use at least 300,000 gallons per day as an offset for groundwater use.

In other city business:

•The council approved an increase in the annual pension benefit to Morris Fire Relief Association members, and also approved suspending an annual contribution that the city had been making in recent years.

The relief association members will see their annual pension benefit increased from $1,500 to $1,700. However, the city will suspend an annual $21,750 contribution it had been making to the fund to provide for future retirements.

The city also approved a bylaw change that would defer pension payouts until members reached age 50. Members who retire before serving 15 years do not receive pension benefits.

Hill and fire relief association President Joel Krusemark said they were pleased with the agreement.

Hill stated that the relief association fund currently was in good shape to take care of pension benefits and that, given the current financial pinch the city is in, it couldn't afford to make the $21,750 contribution in 2011.

"We can't afford to put money in upfront to pay for future retirements," Hill said, noting that a study he conducted of 47 cities, Morris' contribution was the third highest.

Because of several factors, the city currently doesn't need to make the contribution for the department to pay pension benefits. If the need does arise in the future, the city will make the contribution to cover pensions, Hill said.

Krusemark said the agreement was something the relief association can work with.

"We feel it's a good decision to make at this time," he said.

The relief association and city manager will meet annually when budgets are being prepared to determine if the relief fund assets are adequate to pay pension benefits or if city money needs to be budgeted to cover them, Hill said.

•The council voted to designate Hill as the city's identity theft prevention program manager.

The city is required to comply with the Federal Trade Commission's Red Flag Rule because of information the city's Public Utility collects to set up and manage accounts.

•Mayor Sheldon Giese approved appointments to the Community Education Advisory Council.

Jeff Lamberty was appointed to serve through Jan. 1, 2014, and Marshall Hoffman was appointed to serve through Nov. 30, 2012.

•City employee Lyle Miller will be honored during a retirement party on Friday, Feb. 18, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Morris Senior Center. Miller is retiring Feb. 25 after 34 years with the city.