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