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Verndale awarded $600,000 grant for new water tower

Verndale's water tower has been standing since 1948 and could be in its final year of service following funding coming to the city for its replacement. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

A centerpiece in Verndale since 1948, the current water tower is a step closer to retirement after the city was awarded a $600,000 Minnesota DEED grant Monday, July 11.

The announcement made Verndale city clerk/treasurer Barbara Holmes do a little happy dance, knowing the major water improvements needed in the city were moving forward.

"We thought it was wonderful," Holmes said. "Now I'm just waiting on the rest of the awards to come in."

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) awarded 35 grants totaling more than $19 million for rehabilitation and infrastructure projects in Greater Minnesota, Verndale included.

The Small Cities Development Program is part of the Community Development Block Grant Program administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and is funded by Congress. The program helps pay for rehabilitating housing and commercial buildings and updating public infrastructure in small cities and counties.

"The vitality of our communities depends upon strong infrastructure and good, affordable housing," said Governor Mark Dayton in a news release. "These grants will help improve those essential resources in communities throughout Minnesota."

To be eligible for Small Cities funding, a project must meet one of three objectives: benefit people of low and moderate incomes, eliminate slum and blighted conditions, or eliminate an urgent threat to public health or safety.

Cities and townships with populations under 50,000 and counties with populations under 200,000 are eligible for grants under the program. Projects must be completed within 30 months.

Verndale's water treatment replacement became an urgent matter when the city's No. 1 well was found to have high nitrate levels last year, according to Holmes. The $600,000 grant likely won't cover the whole cost of replacing the water tower and other grants are still needed to move forward with the complete water treatment replacement costs, estimated at $3.2 million. While that is a huge sum, Holmes said that if funding comes in, they feel they can replace the water system without assessing the community. Residents may see a bump in their water bill, but Holmes again said that costs should even out as residents will not have to use water softeners anymore with the planned system including reverse osmosis.

Holmes said the entire project is scheduled to go out for bids in August, bids could be accepted in September and construction could begin in October. She was hopeful the exterior could be built before winter sets in so that work could continue on the interior of the building through the freezing months. If that schedule holds true, they could see a completion of the project by August 2019.

In the meantime, the city has been using it's other well near Verndale Custom Builders as it cannot use well No. 1 again, except for emergency purposes. That well is in the city's park across from city hall.