For more than two decades, Koochiching and St. Louis Counties worked separately in trying to find a solution to the faulty septic systems along the rocky shores of border waters. Oftentimes, the two northern Minnesota counties competed for money from the same funding agencies. Residents and businesses became frustrated as proposed projects either failed to be funded or moved forward at a snail’s pace. Then something happened.
In 2008, the two counties began throwing around the idea of combining their projects and working together instead of against each other. They had successfully joined forces on other projects in the past, why not do it with wastewater? A few months later in February of 2009, the Voyageurs National Park Clean Water Joint Powers Board (VNPCWJPB) was formed. The JPB included representatives from each county as well as from the areas of Kabetogama, Ash River and Crane Lake. All of these localities are either adjacent to or serve as gateways to Voyageurs National Park, hence the VNP portion of the name.
Funding agencies and legislators like it when small units of government work together. They soon began looking more favorably at the proposed projects. Meanwhile the JPB picked up support from federal, state and local agencies as well as numerous non-government entities. Letters were written, phone calls were made and legislative doors were knocked on. The snail picked up speed.
Since the creation of the VNPCWJPB, more than $26M in federal, state and local funding has been allocated towards wastewater infrastructure in the project area. Crane Lake has been able to complete some sewer line extensions that they had been working on for several years; a project in the Kabetogama area that nearly failed twice due to lack of funds has been completed and the $20M Island View Sewer Project in Koochiching County is nearly complete. This project will extend sewer service to more than 15 miles of shoreline on Rainy Lake. Estimated non-compliance in the areas mentioned is about 75%. More projects within this watershed are expected to be completed in the future. These projects will help protect many miles of valuable shoreline for the next several decades. If the joint powers board partnership had not been created, the success of these projects would have been questionable.