Chesterton Tribune

Public speaks out on Utility's proposed 1.2M gallon tank

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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 rarer event.

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 engineering consultant.

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 River.

•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 Public Weighs In

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 rates.

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 welcome.”

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.”

The Vote

Members then voted 5-0 to submit the LTCP to IDEM for review.

The Schedule

Nye concluded his presentation with a tentative project schedule:

•IDEM permitting: June 2011-June 2012.

•Design: August 2012-July 2013.

•Permitting: August 2013-February 2014.

•Funding development: March 2014- September 2014.

•Bidding and construction: January 2015-June 2016.

•Startup and commissioning: June 2016-December 2017.



Posted 5/17/2011