Only one of the four persons who spoke at Monday night’s public hearing on
the Chesterton Utility’s proposed “long term control plan” (LTCP) to reduce
sewage bypasses—the key feature of which is a 1.2 million storage
tank—seemed genuinely happy about the $11.6 million project.
The other three expressed something between unease and resignation.
But no one out-and-out remonstrated against the LTCP, probably because it
wouldn’t have done any good anyway. The Town of Chesterton—one of the 30
combined sewer overflow (CSO) communities in the Lake Michigan watershed—is
under a state judicial decree issued in 2007 to complete a LTCP, acceptable
to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM), which will
guarantee the elimination of all bypasses during one class of rain event and
provide for the pre-disinfection of those bypasses during a heavier and
And the most cost-effective—though by no means inexpensive—way of meeting
IDEM’s mandate, in the Utility Service Board’s view, is the construction of
a storage tank.
Total estimated cost of the tank, including hard construction, engineering,
contingency, and an inflation add-on: $11,645,000 or $203,400 more than
earlier estimate made by Mark Nye of DLZ, the project’s contracted
The project includes both the construction of the tank itself and an upgrade
of the wastewater treatment plant’s main lift station, which in heavy rain
events will pump a maximum of 1.2 million gallons of wastewater away from
the plant and into the tank. When the rain has lessened and the plant has
caught up, a gravity line will then bleed the excess back to the lift
station, to be pumped to the plant for treatment.
A combination of factors makes the tank—or at least some version of an LTCP,
so far as IDEM is concerned—necessary:
•Combined storm and sanitary sewers, which work just fine in dry weather but
during heavy rains can send tens of thousands of gallons of runoff to a
plant just not capacious enough to handle the flow. The result: the plant is
forced to bypass the mix of sewage and rainwater into the Little Calumet
•Breaches, cracks, and holes in a sanitary sewer system which, in places, is
decades or generations old. Groundwater, exacerbated during heavy rains,
enters the system and similarly is flowed to the plant.
•Sump pumps and gutter drains connected to the sanitary sewer system. Some
of those hook-ups, in the older parts of town, are not technically illegal
because they were designed that way years ago. Some of them, however, are,
retrofitted by homeowners in violation of Town Code.
As Nye explained at the public hearing, combined sewer systems are “remnants
of the country’s early infrastructure and so are typically found in older
communities.” They currently serve some 772 communities and 40 million
people across the country. Combined sewer overflows—bypasses, that is, into
the Little Calumet River and thence Lake Michigan—were reported to be the a
source of pollution for 8 percent of all beach advisories and 18 percent of
all beach closures in Northwest Indiana from 2000 to 2004, Nye said.
The first person to speak from the floor was Rich Draschil, formerly a
member of the Service Board. Draschil wanted to know more about how the
Utility plans to finance the project and how the financing will impact sewer
President Larry Brandt—who earlier this year speculated that a rate hike of
20 to 25 percent was not implausible—was unable to be any more precise on
Monday. “We really don’t know exactly how much it will affect rates or what
kind of bond we might issue,” he said. Brandt added that IDEM is likely to
take its time reviewing the LTCP and that the longer it takes to actually
stick a shovel in the ground, the more inflation will have an effect on the
final price tag.
“This is going to have to be done,” Draschil replied. “My personal opinion.
The sooner the better and the sooner the cheaper.”
Tom Beck, meanwhile, wanted to know what it would cost to separate combined
storm and sanitary sewers. He also wanted to know why the town has not been
more proactive in seeking and eliminating illegal sump hook-ups.
The “best estimate” of the cost of separating all remaining combined sewers
in town, Brandt replied, is two to three times the cost of the storage tank.
As to the issue of illegal hook-ups, Brandt was somewhat less than gung-ho.
“We would have to send people in, do smoke-testing,” he said. “We don’t want
to do that.”
Town Council Member Emerson DeLaney, R-5th, for his part wanted to know
whether it would save money to build the storage tank without a cover (an
earlier version of the tank, as explained to the Chesterton Tribune
this winter, had it uncovered).
“Our engineering people will look at that,” Brandt replied. “A cover is a
big part of the expense. That’s still on the table.”
Finally, former Town Council member Gina Darnell, representing the Northwest
Indiana Paddling Association, read a prepared statement to the effect that
“CSOs are unacceptable” and that the LTCP plan “is a long time coming and is
Then, speaking on her own behalf, Darnell suggested that the town be wary
about new development which would increase sewage flows to the plant and
decrease its capacity. “We need to be careful how quickly we expand and put
more sewage into the system,” she said. “That lessens the capacity of the
plant to treat stormwater.”
In any event, Darnell said, “people don’t like the price but you need to do
what you’ve got to do.”
Members then voted 5-0 to submit the LTCP to IDEM for review.
his presentation with a tentative project schedule:
permitting: June 2011-June 2012.
August 2013-February 2014.
development: March 2014- September 2014.
construction: January 2015-June 2016.
commissioning: June 2016-December 2017.