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City not saving $$ on methane turbine (12/19/2012)
By Emily Buss
The long-term promise to turn the city's sewage into cash could prove to be more costly than cost-effective. The Winona Public Works Department presented the City Council members with an annual update on Monday regarding the city's $1 million energy savings project, which they said was not living up to expectations.

The project was first proposed in late 2008 to reduce the city's carbon emissions by more than two million pounds annually, reduce city-wide energy consumption by 11.5 percent, and save the city $125,000 a year. In November 2011, the city did see a 26 percent reduction in its carbon footprint, but did not save the amount of money guaranteed by McKinstry, the project's consulting and engineering firm.

The agreement between the city and McKinstry is that if the actual savings are less than promised, the firm will write a check for the difference. However, instead of paying the difference, in 2011 McKinstry installed a new $120,000 boiler at the wastewater treatment facility to attempt to fix the problem with the methane gas capture turbine. However, the turbine, an $800,000 investment paid for by the city, still has not worked properly.

"The methane turbine has not worked as well as we had hoped and the payback agreement is now longer than anticipated," said Keith Nelson, assistant city manager for public works. The original plan was to pay back the cost of the equipment over the next 11 years with the money saved by the project.

Winona Mayor Jerry Miller reiterated the terms of the contract with McKinstry, and said the city only saved $87,000 in 2012, short of the guaranteed annual savings of $125,000. Miller said if the guaranteed savings are not there, recourse should be investigated.

"When we first heard about energy savings, I think a lot of community members were all for it," Miller stated. "But, when we check on the project, we see that we are not saving what we should. Maybe the city attorney should look at that."

Council member Debbie White questioned the future of the project, and Nelson said he was not able to provide that information because the agenda item was a progress report, not an action item. Nelson said a discussion regarding action could be held at a future meeting.

Property tax levy and budget approved

The council unanimously voted to approve the 2013 property tax levy and budget, which raises property taxes 1.2 percent. Winona City Finance Director Mary Burrichter presented the $38 million budget, which was the same document council members saw in September.

The 1.2 percent increase in taxes was attributed mainly to Port Authority projects such as the airport improvement bonds coming due and debt service for the bike path project.

The Port Authority's portion of the increase is nearly $130,000, while the city's portion of the increase is about $78,000.

Kolter subdivision

plat approved

The final sale of the 4.65 acres of Westfield Golf Club land, which will be used to create the Kolter subdivision, was unanimously approved by council members. Long-term plans for the land also include the construction of a rail spur to serve industrial property at 25 McConnon Drive.

Official delineation of park land and the creation of street right-of-way are also noted in the plans.

The plat, adjacent to the Pelzer Street bridge and also to land donated by John Latsch, prompted councilwoman Pamela Eyden to question if the subdivision was in violation of land use requirements for Latsch land.

"The area that the subdivision relates to is not part of the donated John Latsch land," Assistant City Planner Carlos Espinosa confirmed.

Espinosa said the subdivision and rail spur are still in the early stages of planning, and the sale of the land is being examined only as it relates to current zoning regulations.  


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