The Minnesota Court of Appeals issued a decision yesterday finding that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) made legal errors and lacked substantial evidence to enforce a permit limit on the City of Osakis’ wastewater treatment facility.
The city has worked proactively to reduce phosphorous at its wastewater treatment facility, initiated voluntary partnerships with local farmers to reduce the amount of phosphorous entering the local watershed, and collected years’ worth of water quality data that demonstrates improved water quality in local lakes. Osakis takes its responsibility to provide wastewater service and protect local water quality very seriously.
Nevertheless, MPCA sought to impose a highly restrictive phosphorous limit on the city’s wastewater treatment facility.
The city consistently objected to the limit for two principal reasons. First, the MPCA failed to apply state and federal law properly. The agency attempted to employ a regulatory standard to Faille Lake, which the agency itself determined was not impaired. Second, the MPCA lacked evidence to prove the limit was necessary to protect the quality of downstream waters. The Minnesota Court of Appeals agreed with Osakis on both points.
This case is significant for Osakis. The costs to upgrade its treatment facility to comply with the limit could range between $8 million to $13 million — a cost that would fall on residents and businesses. While the City of Osakis takes water quality seriously, they also have an obligation to be responsible stewards of public finances.
This is vindication for the city. We attempted to resolve this matter with them for years without litigation, but MPCA insisted they were right, and Osakis was wrong. The city hopes they can now put this matter behind them and work collaboratively to ensure they are regulated in a manner that is necessary to protect the environment and consistent with state and federal law.
It is unfortunate that a small city had to go to such lengths to get a state agency to apply their own regulations properly, but Flaherty & Hood will proudly continue to represent Osakis in this fight.
The court’s decision means that MPCA must start over, implement their own regulations correctly, and apply terms that are consistent with water quality data.