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EGF considers lowering sewage charges for backyard rinks

Inflated sewage bills stemming from East Grand Forks residents creating backyard hockey rinks may prompt the city to explore an official policy on amending those bills before next winter.

Inflated sewage bills stemming from East Grand Forks residents creating backyard hockey rinks may prompt the city to explore an official policy on amending those bills before next winter.

One resident's request to have his sewage bill lowered was heard by the City Council during its Tuesday night meeting and prompted discussion on what the city could do to alleviate some bill hikes.

In East Grand Forks, water usage is tied to sewage usage, which assumes a portion of water used by residents eventually enters the city's sewer system. For residential users, the city's monthly sewage charge is calculated as 65 percent of the water charge, according to the city's 2016 sewage rate schedule.

Scott Richter, the resident making the request, argued the water used to create his backyard ice rink doesn't reach a sewer drain but rather is absorbed by his lawn, according to a city staff report. The month he built the rink, his household water usage jumped from its average of 2,000 gallons to 29,000 gallons for the month and resulted in a total utility bill of $534.

Richter is asking the city to amend his sewage charge from $146 to reflect his average usage charge of about $8.

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The city does make similar concessions for those using sprinklers to water lawns, determining the average sewage use from November to May and charging residents that amount instead of their actual summer usage.

Richter's request had support from Mayor Lynn Stauss and several council members.

"I feel he should absolutely get it," Stauss said. "If he's putting in a rink and helping kids skate and it's not going down into the sewers, why not help him out?"

Council member Henry Tweten also expressed support for the request, adding the city should put out a notice prior to the winter that could educate residents about the impact of backyard rinks on utility bills. He also had another suggestion for getting ahead of potential problems.

"I think what the answer is in cases like this is to have people get approval from the city before they use the water," he said.

Richter did not speak at the meeting, but Council President Mark Olstad said he came in and spoke with city officials, acknowledging he should have spoken with the city before filling his rink.

The question of creating a city policy on amending bills tied to backyard rinks came from City Planner Nancy Ellis, who said she also has put a rink in her yard for the past four or five years.

"I'm just asking because personally I know at least four people that I'm friends with that also build rinks in their backyard," she said.

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Olstad said the matter could be discussed again later this year, and the council can decide at that time what steps the city should take.

Water and electricity is provided through the city's Water and Light Department, which functions as a municipal utility with its own governing commission while sewage is controlled by the city and therefore would need council approval to amend a sewage charge.

A final decision on Richter's request will be made at the council's next meeting, on April 5.

Related Topics: HOCKEY
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