By BOB SHRALUKA
Here we go again!
IDEM (the Indiana Department of Environmental Management) is knocking on Decatur's door once again and ultimately it's going to be the residents of this community who are going to paying the bill to open that door.
All those millions of dollars the city spent to separate and upgrade its sewer systems in two major projects in the past 10 to 12 years was good, but apparently not quite good enough. So comes now the latest unfunded mandate and its cost may top $1 million ... maybe even $1.5 million ... maybe more.
Ben Adams, an engineer with Commonwealth Engineers of Fort Wayne, was the bearer of the bad tidings at Tuesday night's meeting of Decatur City Council. Adams has worked with city officials for several years, including on past sewer projects.
When Decatur separated its storm and sanitary sewers over the two projects well remembered by city residents, and completely revamped its sewage treatment plant, it was left with only three combined sewer overflows (CSOs). During unusually heavy rains, some of the rainwater overflows through them into the St. Marys River.
It rarely happens, but IDEM has established a new goal of no overflow when there is a "10-year event" of 1.6 inches of rain in 30 minutes. The city apparently does not meet that goal.
The first two phases of sewer upgrading "were extremely effective, but doesn't get you to where IDEM wants you to be," Adams said at the meeting. "It (the overflow) has been reduced significantly, but it's not gone."
Council has to determine by the next meeting whether it wishes to sign an agreed order with IDEM which says the city will meet the 1.6-30 goal within three years. So it was agreed that City Attorney Tim Baker will look over the agreement and report at the next meeting, on February 21.
IDEM, of course, wants the answer now. The alternative, eventually, anyway, is having fines levied against the city by IDEM.
Other decisions are ahead. Adams said Commonwealth could conduct extensive testing of the city's sewer and perhaps find ways to, as Adams said, "knock out a bunch of external water." Perhaps — perhaps — the city could meet IDEM's mandate in that manner.
The cost of the study could be anywhere from $100,000 to $150,000 and any changes that could be made may still not be enough to satisfy IDEM.
An obviously agitated Baker said to Adams, "We've taken an aggressive approach" to solving sewer problems over the years and are way ahead of most other communities in so doing. "Yet, now we're told we have three years to do this. Fort Wayne has been given 10. I don't get it!"
"We're probably going to be seeing a (city) rate increase pretty quick, then maybe another in three years (if IDEM is still not satisfied)," Mayor John Schultz, also obviously unhappy, said.
If the city does have the study done, and if other remedies are tried and it's still not good enough, then the city is looking at yet another major project which undoubtedly will cost over $1 million.