Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

Town of Porter on borrowed time as old sewer lines collapse

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By PAULENE POPARAD

Soon a contractor will begin relining 300 feet of broken sanitary sewer under Franklin Street in Porter, a $200,000 repair to the 70 year-old collection system that’s outlived its useful life.

“It’s going to start collapsing other places. We’re on borrowed time,” said Town Councilman Jon Granat.

Monday, a committee of town officials, residents and business owners met again for more than two hours trying to map a prioritized plan for updating Porter’s antiquated sewer system and, most importantly, how to pay for it.

The committee’s recommendations will be forwarded to the Town Council, which will make the final decision how to proceed.

Emerging are two ways to go: do what’s necessary by 2012 to satisfy the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, which has ordered Porter to stop bypassing in heavy rain into the Little Calumet River, or bite the bullet and commence a phased, full-scale modernization of the sewer system.

The difference is millions of dollars.

Town financial consultant Karl Cender said options for financing the work, alone or in combination, are a bond issue or state loan repaid with an increase in sewer user fees; a general obligation bond issue repaid with property taxes; money provided by the town’s Redevelopment Commission or other Porter funds; and possible federal appropriations, stimulus money or other grants.

Cender said a general bond issue, which would take 90 days to complete, would raise only $1.48 million based on Porter’s assessed valuation; the money to repay such loans used to be outside Indiana’s frozen levy but now is within the circuit breaker tax cap so the amount of annual debt service would have to be deducted from operating funds for town departments.

A bond issue/loan through the State Revolving Loan Fund would be time consuming, first requiring detailed engineering to be paid upfront by the town followed by review and approval of the project by IDEM.

Committee member Councilman Dave Babcock said it’s not likely the Porter Redvelopment Commission can make a significant contribution although it has financed some sewer repairs/upgrades in the past.

The Redevelopment Commission has several big-ticket items --- redevelopment of the 31-acre Brickyard parcel it purchased, construction of two hike/bike trails and an ambitious Gateway to the Dunes initiative with a third trail --- all on its plate at the present time.

Cender said Indiana is pushing local governments increasingly to rely on user fees to reduce the tax burden on property owners. But committee members said the amount of rate increase alone needed to modernize Porter’s sewer system would be crushing.

Cender reminded that Porter’s sewer utility is posting a shortfall in operating costs that has to be factored into any new rate structure as well.

Committee member Ron Bush said he had no idea the sewer system was in such bad shape and advocated laying out the situation for Porter residents. “I hate surprises. I’d rather have the information up front. Tell me what it is and let’s approach it together. We all want our toilets to flush.”

Committee member Brad McNabb said Porter first needs to get its house in order. “We have to have a vision where we’re going or we’ll be a debating society for a year. When you solve problems under the gun, the best choices aren’t always made.”

Babcock said he’s concerned about the effect on people on fixed incomes, and he’d want to spend the least necessary to get out from under the town’s agreed order with IDEM.

Bob Poparad, who owns Pinkerton Oil in Porter, was a member of the Burns Harbor Town Council and currently serves on the Porter County Council. He said Porter needs political will, not just money.

“If you get shot once, get shot with a big bullet. Fix all the problems and be done with it because this will never go away. If you’re going to go to the well, go once and take a big bucket,” he suggested, adding that town officials could get tough as well with illegally connected private sump pumps and gutters.

Last meeting Poparad suggested building a new sewer collection system in the downtown Porter alleys with the existing sewers in the streets then used to divert groundwater, the latter a problem because it has to be processed at the Chesterton treatment plant for a fee just like Porter’s sewage.

Town director of engineering Matt Keiser said Monday a new alley sewer system could cost about $4 million without an upgraded Porter Avenue lift station. That figure allows $10,000 per home for the town to modify private laterals and drains necessitated by the change.

Downtown resident Carol Pomeroy, Porter clerk-treasurer, told the committee, “You’re going to ask me to dig up my basement? That’s crazy.” She said homeowners can absorb a higher monthly sewer fee better than laying out cash to reconfigure plumbing.

Keiser said the alley option would require a permit from IDEM, while a $2.3 million project to reline the remaining aged clay downtown sewers with new PVC pipe would not. The PVC has a 50 to 70-year life expectancy.

Committee members were surprised to learn that groundwater seeping into Porter’s sanitary sewers costs about $52,000 a year to treat; they expected it would be much more. Keiser said it still represents 1/12 of Porter’s annual treatment cost.

“If that’s right it doesn’t make sense to spend $1 million to save $50,000,” observed Granat. Resources might be better used to more efficiently pump the infiltrated water rather than trying to eliminate it, others said.

To that end Keiser was asked to firm up estimates to upgrade the Porter Avenue and Triangle Trail lift stations. Poparad suggested moving and building a new Porter Avenue lift station altogether.

The committee will meet again Feb. 22 at 7:30 p.m. when Babcock said it’s hoped Porter Public Works/Utility superintendent Brenda Brueckheimer, who’s recuperating from back surgery, can attend.

 

Posted 2/16/2010

 

Posted 2/16/2010

 

Posted 2/16/2010

 

Posted 2/16/2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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