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Our View: Sanitary district serves our needs

No one likes unflattering publicity, even if the negative incidents happened years ago and have little semblance to today’s activities. But it can still sting. That’s exactly what happened after we ran our story last month about Elaine Osborne, who wrote a book about her life after a sewer main line leaked millions of gallons five different times near her Esko backyard decades ago, exposing her to toxic raw sewage off and on for years. She has claimed the incidents in the early 1980s have caused her severe and long- term medical issues, and that the owner of the sewer line was less than responsive to the issue.

Western Lake Superior Sanitary District owned that sewer line, which had been built in the late 1970s, just a few years before the breaks occurred. Contractors building the pipeline did an inadequate job, resulting in the massive spills. Lawsuits ensued. WLSSD prevailed against the contractors who built the pipeline, and used the money to rebuild much of the sewer line from Cloquet to the WLSSD treatment plant in West Duluth. It’s been safe and effective for years.

And while we’re not willing to wade into the efficacy of pipelines, we will point out that, according to the WLSSD, its pipelines are constantly monitored 24 hours a day and can be responded to quickly in the event of the occasional leak or damage. Routine maintenance and upkeep has also prevented any major spills in nearly 40 years over the 525 square miles the wastewater and solid waste agency serves.

We appreciate the WLSSD and the work they do for our community. Before the district was formed in the 1970s, the lower St. Louis River was so polluted that it was actually dangerous to use. Not only did communities like Cloquet treat their own sewage and drain the treated water into the St. Louis River, industrial pollutants had been dumped into the river for years by other parties and included zinc, dioxins, mercury, and PCBs. Since then, the WLSSD has treated human and industrial waste for most of northern Carlton County as well as Duluth and the surrounding areas. The river is clean; garbage is processed; recycling is commonplace and our entire community is cleaner and healthier.

Last month WLSSD was recognized for the job they do, winning the prestigious 2020 Peak Performance Award from the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA). The Gold Peak Performance award is one of the industry’s highest honors and recognizes wastewater treatment facilities that have met the standard of 100-percent compliance with their National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit. The NPDES discharge permit regulates the quality of the water discharged by WLSSD after treatment and sets quality standards for disinfection and the removal of solids and toxic compounds like mercury and dioxin.

We applaud our community for forming the WLSSD in the first place, and we applaud the good work they have been doing here for half a century.