FAIRMONT - About 50 people concerned with Fairmont's water supply came to the city council meeting Monday night and several voiced their opinions.
Bob Seidel and Henry Roehler gave the council multi-paged reports on the quality of well water versus the chemicals found in surface water.
Fairmont's drinking water comes from Budd Lake. The arguments against surface water come up repeatedly as the city works to build a new water plant, with construction slated to begin this year.
"Surface water is recognized as the most risky," Seidel said as he addressed the council, noting the chemicals found in surface water are on the Minnesota Department of Health's list as being among the most dangerous.
"All of these things are currently being tested for in Minnesota water," said City Administrator Jim Zarling.
He explained that the city tests the drinking water - not the source water. The results of these tests are available to the public.
But Roehler suggested a different water source.
"The only alternative to using Budd Lake is using well water," he said. "An excellent water aquifer underlies Fairmont at depths between 200 and 300 feet ... (it) is already being used by Biofuel's ethanol plant and domestic users near the city."
Roehler said the aquifer water is hard and has a high iron content, both of which can be corrected, but the water "does not contain chemical or biological contaminates" and "should not require the 7-step filtration system planned for the new Budd School plant."
Peter Malecha said he's been asking questions of the city officials, but the answers have not made him comfortable.
People in Fairmont have a choice, he said: "Drinking well water that is fairly constant and treated with proven methods, or surface water from Budd treated with chemicals to remove chemicals."
Dr. Lael Luedtke was concerned with long-term issues.
"Why put our children at potential risk?" she asked.
Everyone who attended was thanked for coming to the meeting by Zarling.
"It's been very useful to have all of you here," he said, inviting them to the next meeting to hear more information on the topic.
Advanced Engineering and Environmental Services, the firm hired to help build a new Fairmont water plant, will make a presentation at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 24 at city hall. Mayor Randy Quiring welcomed everyone to attend.
Councilman Joe Kallemeyn asked that time be made for a question and answer period with the company.
Water, the frozen kind, was at the heart of another issue: The snow plows' leftovers along State Street sidewalk, between School and Willow streets.
Resident Scott Lawrence said it was dangerous to walk along that section of State Street when the sidewalks aren't clear.
"It's pretty hairy to walk there on the highway," he said.
Residents are supposed to keep their sidewalks cleared, but Zarling said the council has passed an exemption for those blocks because of how hard the plows can compact the snow. A motion to suspend fines this winter for those residents passed.
Council members didn't like the idea of pedestrians walking on Highway 15, or crossing the highway at uncontrolled intersections to get to sidewalks on the other side.
"Can we talk to the state and find a longer-term solution?" asked Councilmember Wes Clerc. "It's not that residents aren't shoveling, it's constantly being plowed shut."
Councilmember Harlan Gorath said houses along that area were "pockmarked" from the plow: "I'm all for helping the residents. I'd like to see this issue resolved soon; it's not going to go away."
In other business, the council:
o Approved a conditional use permit for Hy-Vee to build a convenience store and gas station.
o Passed two proclamations, one naming Feb. 7-14 as Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Month, and another naming January as Mentoring Month.
o Passed a resolution to grant cable franchise to Midcontinent Communications.
o Approved a 23 percent water rate increase.
o Approved a 3 percent wastewater rate increase.
o Passed a resolution allowing crematoriums in light industrial districts.