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
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.