Chesterton Tribune

County Council 49 corridor vote likely Tuesday; Liberty residents speak out

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

More than five months after the Porter County Board of Commissioners voted 2-1 to endorse an offer made by the Town of Chesterton to upsize the pipelines for the new Ind. 49 corridor utility project, the commissioners will formally make the request to the County Council to put up the funds needed for the project on Tuesday.

The council will meet at 5:30 p.m. inside Suite 205 of the County Administration Building located at 155 Indiana Ave. in Valparaiso.

The Council’s agenda lists the item as an additional appropriation of $742,409 to CEDIT Project #38 which was created by the commissioners at their July 3 meeting by a 2-1 vote from the commissioners after Chesterton Town Council and Redevelopment Commission member Jeff Trout informed the commissioners the bids that came in for the upsize were lower than the original estimate of $900,000.

The town has also committed to paying the “soft costs” for the county such as engineering work and legal expenses. The county could also recover the cost to upgrade the lines by charging tap-on fees with the extended sewer line.

Voting in favor of the new CEDIT (County Economic Development Income Tax) project were Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, and Commissioner Nancy Adams, R-South. Dissenting was Commissioner Carole Knoblock, D-South.

If the Council signs off on approving the upgrades, which requires a majority vote of at least four of its seven members, the pipes would be enlarged to service the corridor past the town limits south of the Toll Road to U.S. 6 where the site for the new Porter hospital is.

Preliminary talk from a few Council members indicates a split in the vote is highly likely. Council member Laura Blaney, D-at large, at the July 3 commissioners meeting recommended CEDIT funds be used for this project because the purpose here is economic development and poising the area for development will bring additional jobs.

Council member Jim Biggs, R-1st, said he will be voting no to the project, contending the county should not be taking on any more projects that could produce recurring expenses in a time when the county is looking for ways to prevent its E-911 system from running in the red about $4 million per year, projected to start in 2014. He further emphasized the need to fund a solution to the overcrowding at the Porter County Jail reported by Sheriff David Lain.

“Spending monies in an effort to encourage economic development should only be considered at a time when we know that our most primary responsibilities as a county government are already properly budgeted,” said Biggs.

Evans however argued that it should be the county’s duty to seek out opportunities to collaboratively work on projects with its municipalities and that the efforts would be financially beneficial to the county. With the new hospital ready to open in a month, Evans expects strong interest in new developments and said he would like to see the county ready to receive them. “To be prepared is to be smart,” he said.

Meanwhile during a public comment session specifically for the 49 corridor project held by the County Council in April, Liberty Twp. residents living close to the new hospital and Liberty Twp. Board president Ed Seykowski asked the county to consider alternatives. Jack Barko, chairman of the Damon Run Conservancy District said the district, which services the hospital and two other benefited properties – Sunset Hill Farm County Park and Liberty Twp. Schools -- with sanitary sewer and water, is currently running at only 16 percent capacity and is ready to receive more customers.

Trout made arguments against those claims at the recent July 9 Chesterton Town Council meeting, referencing testimony made by DRCD engineer Charlie Ray before the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) in June 2011. Trout said Ray stated that the sanitary system installed to serve the new Porter hospital at U.S. Highway 6 and Ind. 49 is of sufficient capacity to serve only the immediate area around the hospital and if the district wanted to extend beyond that, it would have to upsize its lift station.

Seykowski and fellow Liberty Twp. neighbors Ed Gutt and Tim Cole, who make up the newly formed Woodville Foundation, said that in a copy of the testimony, which can be found online, the document never states word-for-word Ray saying that DRCD cannot service past the hospital, but simply that the district was not looking to serve any other customers at the time of the hearing on June 11, 2011.

According to the state’s Office of Utility Consumer Counselor final report and decision, Ray testified that “Damon Run’s system was designed to handle areas larger than the Hospital, including the adjacent St. Andrews area (to the west)” and that “Damon Run has sized its system to accommodate additional flows for property on the east side of Highway 49 should there be future development.”

But, the reason DRCD has not sized its system to accommodate flows to the “Potentially Developable Area” around the hospital in the first place was because “future development and demand for service are not likely in the foreseeable future” or for the next 10 or 20 years, according to Ray. He said in testimony it would be “imprudent to saddle Damon Run’s customers with debt for an oversized system that will not be used and useful to Damon Run for many years.”

Ray indicated that Damon Run has the option to work with the City of Portage in requesting additional capacity if needed.

The Woodville group also rebutted Trout’s comments that Damon Run’s 8-inch sanitary sewer pipe could not handle the capacity. The line is a 12-inch pipe from Bay Road to the Hospital and has been since its installation, the Woodville group said. The pipe is smaller, from 8 or 10 inches, in the surrounding subdivisions but the line going to the hospital is 12 inches according to maps from the DRCD.

Another matter of contention: Trout said according to IURC public records Damon Run had amassed a debt of $3.1 million in 2010 and is not solvent to handle more development. The Woodville group said the debt was due to the infrastructure that was still being paid for in 2010 but has been paid off as of current.

On the record, Trout has said more than once that the town has no intention of annexing land and that the matter is simply to help the county bring jobs and grow the economy.

“We think the county wants to be shovel-ready,” Trout said in April.

Also on the Council’s agenda, an appointment will be made for the new Redevelopment Commission which has five voting members total. The Council is allowed to make one citizen appointment while the commissioners can make two.

Items under other transfers and additional appropriations highlight changes made in the budgets for the county’s Emergency Management Authority and the Hazardous Substances fund. The commissioners decided to combine both departments, which will be headed by Russ Shirley, who will take the reins from EMA Director Phil Griffith. Griffith retired from the post earlier this month.

After a unanimous preliminary vote last month favoring the expenditure of $985,520 for an agreement with Motorola Solutions for the purchase of new E-911 radio equipment to be used by local fire stations, the council will vote again on an official request from the commissioners to tap into hospital interest money for the purchase.

The council will look at a few requests involving the new fund created by the commissioners for the inmate health care co-payment program. The new fund calls for a $5,000 additional.

Sheriff Lain will request a transfer of $25,000 in the Federal/DOC Prisoners fund from Med & Hospital to Med & Dental due to the “inordinately high number of inmates requiring ambulance and outside medical services.”

 

 

Posted 7/23/2012