Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

Porter committee begins work on what will likely be a big sewer rate hike

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By PAULENE POPARAD

“Some times you have to step back and look at the forest before you can start fixing the trees,” observed Ron Bush.

He is a member of the new Porter Sanitary Sewer Rate Committee, which met Monday for the first time. Bush joined others in assessing The Big Picture for Porter’s antiquated sewer collection system.

It wasn’t pretty.

Based on 2009 expenditures and 2010 needs, the town’s sewer utility could be almost $570,000 underfunded this year. Porter raised just over $1 million from its sewer customers last year, but it also paid $600,000 to process their sanitary waste at Chesterton’s treatment plant.

Coupled with a mandated April, 2012 state deadline for Porter to stop its lift stations from overflowing into the Little Calumet River in heavy rain, there’s at least $4 million in capital improvements that need to be done and no money to make the estimated $300,000 annual repayment on that future loan.

The decision isn’t whether there will be a Porter sewer-rate increase, but how much.

Before that can be determined, said committee member Bob Poparad, owner of Pinkerton Oil in Porter, the Town Council needs to decide whether it wants to own the sewer system, sell it, privatize its operation or make innovative changes.

In addition to Bush and Poparad, the remaining committee members are Brad McNabb, Porter utility clerk Sue Huyser, town financial consultant Karl Cender, town director of engineering Matt Keiser, and Town Council members Jon Granat and Dave Babcock.

The latter said he last year courted three potential buyers for Porter’s sewer system but none made a serious offer.

Bush and McNabb are Porter residents with experience in information management and accounting. Poparad was a member of the Burns Harbor Town Council that seven years ago oversaw installation of a new sanitary sewer system there as well as the town’s purchase and upgrade of the former Bethlehem Steel sewage treatment plant.

Keiser said one of the biggest problems Porter has is the age of its system: clay tile mains well beyond their useful life installed 15 feet deep in the streets; undersized brick manholes; and about 120,000 feet of sewer lines, many of them broken and clogged with roots in the downtown area allowing water to seep in the system.

Whatever goes to Chesterton is treated at a cost to Porter, even clean groundwater, so eliminating it at the source will save money that can be used instead to make capital improvements, said committee members.

“You could spend $10 million in this town, couldn’t you?” said Poparad.

Said Bush, “We’ve got the infrastructure crumbling at best. Let’s not throw good money after bad. What should we be doing? What are the pricetags for that?”

Keiser said Porter’s agreed order with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management is vague on what needs to be done to stop sewage overflows, only that it stop, giving the town flexibility in its approach.

Some downtown sewers have been relined in place but it could cost $2.2 million to reline the remaining downtown sections, but that won’t totally address the problem of groundwater infiltration.

At Poparad’s suggestion the committee asked for a cost estimate to build new sanitary sewers in downtown alleys and route separated groundwater from perimeter and sump drains into the existing sanitary sewers that would function as storm sewers. It’s believed the new system would be less costly to maintain and reduce the need for Porter to purchase additional sewage capacity from Chesterton.

The Porter rate committee meets Feb. 15 at 7:30 p.m. at the town hall to learn the sewer relocation estimate as well as what percentage of metered flow from Porter is actually groundwater. Granat called such infiltration Porter’s biggest sewer problem.

McNabb said Porter has been too slow in passing along Chesterton sewer rate hikes to Porter’s own residents, which puts the strapped utility there in an even deeper hole. “That has to stop now.”

Cender said he’ll research if a mechanism could be put in place to provide for pass-through rate hikes.

Keiser said in 2009, “We sat and held our cards all year and Dec. 22 found out a $800,000 (federal) grant was yanked out in front of us.” Now, the town can no longer afford to wait, he added.

 

 

Posted 2/9/2010

 

 

 

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