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Impact of Raw Sewage Hits Excelsior Bay

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Excelsior businesses felt a shock after Lake Minnetonka beach closures

Tommy’s Tonka Trolley was carrying on business as usual last weekend until operations came to a standstill when owner Tommy Drummond learned the city of Mound began releasing untreated wastewater into Lake Minnetonka.

Instead of starting the kayak and paddleboard rental season strong, Drummond ended up refunding $1,500 worth of rental fees in one day to customers who no longer wanted to spend time on the water.

According to Mound officials, the weekend’s 4.5 inches of rainfall overwhelmed the city’s sanitary sewer system and forced the city to release untreated sewage into the storm sewer system at six sites around Lake Minnetonka, Lake Langdon and Dutch Lake.

The bypass was an effort to protect as many as 1,000 homes from infiltration of raw sewage. Pumping started at 10:30 a.m. Sunday and ended at midnight.

According to Metropolitan Council Environmental Services, the organization that operates the regional sewer system, coordinated with city of Mound and provided some of its staff and equipment to help pump wastewater out of the overloaded areas. Water was then taken by truck to other discharge points in the sewer that were not overloaded.

But it is unclear which sewer system is to blame in the bypass and subsequent loss of business for Tommy’s Tonka Trolley. Mound says the regional sanitary sewer system is at fault, while Met Council claims the opposite.

“Make no mistake that the system failure was not in the Mound sewer system,” said Mound Mayor Mark Hanus in a statement June 2. “We are able to handle what Mother Nature has thrown at us. What failed were the MCES sewer lines which were full and were unable to take the water from the Mound system. Almost all of our city has a new or updated sewer system that is less than 12 years old with only a few exceptions. Our system and pumps are fully operational but the MCES force main is at capacity by the time it reaches us.”

Met Council fired back.

“Contrary to some reports, the Metropolitan Council’s regional sanitary sewer facilities operated continuously throughout the weekend and were not the cause of the discharge,” its statement claimed. “Rather, it was the Inflow and infiltration of stormwater into the Mound municipal sewer system that caused the spill. If inflow and infiltration is not addressed regionally, it may cause future spills in the metro region.”

The incident prompted Minnesota Department of Health to enact a no-swim advisory throughout Lake Minnetonka and other affected lakes due to a potential E. coli bacteria increase that could cause illness. This, Drummond says, scared off potential business.

Drummond refunded reservations made through Groupon as well as individual reservations on site. He said he didn’t understand why people were so frightened, since Excelsior Bay is so far from the affected sites that the wastewater would be greatly diluted by the time it reached Excelsior Bay, if it ever did.

“My explanation to the customers and to Groupon is it’s 11-12 miles away – it’s four lakes away connected by channels,” Drummond said. “If it was done over here it would be a totally different story.”

Drummond said he looks out for his customers’ best interest and hasn’t argued about any cancellations. He said if people don’t feel safe, he doesn’t want to push them to go on the water.

Another sore subject with Drummond is the coverage of the event. Drummond said TV reports scared his customers the most, not explaining exactly where the sewage was being released but instead referring to the entire lake as affected.

“It’s irresponsible to generalize Lake Minnetonka as one small area,” Drummond said. “It’s just unfortunate. I wish they would have focused the issue on that side of the lake – if I had kayaks on that side of the lake, I’d be very sensitive and concerned as a business owner.”

Several businesses in Excelsior took note of Drummond’s hardship on the shore of Lake Minnetonka and pulled together to support Tommy’s Tonka Trolley in a community fashion.

Ooh La La Owner Connie Frederick said she has been encouraging her customers to visit the Trolley and to buy ice cream there and give Drummond business to make up for this unfortunate loss.

“We’re all small business owners here,” Frederick said.  “People usually come to hang out on the beach and then come by to do some shopping, and there probably aren’t a lot of people doing that now either.”

Nate Stangler is the owner of Arbor Haus, a design and remodeling company in Excelsior. He said he started his Monday with two calls from people in Mound who were affected by wastewater backups in their homes.

Stangler said he saw the concentration of affected homes in Mound, but that he also understands businesses around the lake, such as Tommy’s Tonka Trolley, will most likely feel the effects of the bypass for several weeks.

Metropolitan Council Environmental Services Senior Information Coordinator Tim O’Donnell said the situation was unfortunate and Mound faced “a difficult decision.”

Mound City Manager Kandis Hanson said her main concern was keeping wastewater out of people’s homes, and that area businesses were not a concern when making the determination.

“I have heard of businesses being affected and I regret that that’s happening,” Hanson said. “But the water that was put into the lake was filtered, so there were no solids that entered Lake Minnetonka … I can’t imagine how (the water) could reach Excelsior.”

At press time, all beaches on Lake Minnetonka were open, which means levels of E. coli were below the required minimum.

Contact Stephanie Gonyou at stephanie.gonyou@ecm-inc.com

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