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From Left Field

February 28, 2012

By BOB SHRALUKA
    Hey, let's chalk one up for the city guys!
    Jeremy Gilbert and Verlin Butcher start discussing the IDEM sewer mandate and how much it's likely to cost the city, including the usual steep engineering fees, and — BINGO! — they come up with a plan which is destined to save the City of
Decatur some big-time bucks.
    Gilbert, the invaluable tall man who heads up the sanitation and sewaer departments, and Butcher, a longtime employee at the city's sanitation department, have produced a seven-pomt guideline to begin moving toward the storm water reduction the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) is demanding from the city.
    What their plan will do, in essence, is make some repairs here, some changes there, and so on, all done by city employees. Some of the changes, for example, will involve redoing manhole covers and the area around them to prevent storm water from getting into the sanitary sewer.
    All of this is geared to making making reductions in storm water which once in the ol' blue moon gets through the three CSOs in the city and flows into the St. Marys River. Surely, too, as Mayor John Schultz said, some of the work will reveal other areas where further improvements can be made.
    When all the city-employee work is finished, it's unlikely that the storm water reduction IDEM wants will be met. But it almost surely will be much closer to that goal  — and at a reduced cost. Likely a greatly reduced cost.
    The savings come from having city people make the plans and city workers carry them out rather than paying engineering services. City officials have had great rapport with the folks at Commonwealth Engineering and some others over the years and are mostly pleased with their efforts on behalf of the city. But engineers command a high price and if the same work can be done "in-house," why not?
    Or, as Mayor John Schultz said at Tuesday night's city council meeting, "Why should we hire an engineering firm to tell us things we already know." Things that can be discovered through the efforts of city employees.
    Commonwealth estimated a price tag of $100,000 to $150,000 to study ways to reduce the storm water influx. The city's cost may well end up being half that much.
    Down the line, Commonwealth or another firm is going to have to be hired by the city as it gets deeper into the IDEM-mandated project. Undoubtedly, too, another hike in water or sewage rates will become a necessity to meet the mandate.
    But the Gilbert-Butcher plan is sure to bring a savings to taxpayers and we can wholeheartedly applaud that ... even as we boo the IDEM mandate.

Hire your own
    Another good idea that came up for the first time at Tuesday's council meeting makes so much sense that the only question is why it wasn't done earlier: hiring a full-time civil engineer for the city.
    Council gave its unanimous approval to advertising the position, which seems to signal its total support for the idea advanced by the mayor.
    No, a civil engineer won't come cheap. But he or she will take over as head of the storm water department, a position not filled for several months, so that's a partial savings as such. Meanwhile, the mayor said the city's engineer can handle a number of duties for which the city would have to hire a consulting firm.
    Adams County Engineer Tim Barkey, who speaks from experience, says he's been encouraging the city to do so for some time. Barkey served as Kendallville's first full-time engineer for six to seven years before coming to the Adams County post some 20 years ago.
    "We did a lot of little things (at Kendallville), such as small sewer projects, water projects, things like that," Barkey explained. "And a lot of street work. We would make the plans and specs (specifications) and then bid them out instead of having to hire a consultant to do it.
    "Here (his present post), I do culvert work, work on bridge projects. Like I said, just a lot of things so you don't have to hire a consultant. And if you hire your own (engineer) that person is there all the time. to help out, answer questions, whatever. To look over what's going on."
    Of course, Barkey adds, "There are times when you still need a consultant, yes., But so many things can be done yourself if you have your own (engineer)."
 

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