Friday, February 17, 2006

THE REST OF THE STORY- submitted by Chuck Andres

THE REST OF THE STORY -St. Leon Sewer History

This is a very interesting story as far as it goes but let’s add a few more “FACTS” to what has happened so everyone knows the ‘entire’ story and not just snippets that inflame people. I don’t know what kind of expertise Mr. Hammonds has but let me tell you where I am coming from. I have been serving on the Indiana RWWTF (Rural Waste Water Task Force) for the past three years. This is a Task Force that was established by the Indiana Land Resources Council to study the on going waste water problems in the State and develop a strategy to alleviate potential health problems. We completed our study in the Fall of 2004 and submitted a white paper to the State Legislature outlining the concerns and a strategy to address them. The current administration disbanded the Land Resources Council but the RWWTF remains as an autonomous group of concerned parties that have a stake in correcting these State wide problems.

In the summer of 2005 I was invited to serve on the ISDH (Indiana State Department of Health) Onsite Wastewater Strategy Task Force. Since 85% of the septic systems in the State are failing or have failed the ISDH is concerned about the health and safety associated with this problem. Our charge was nearly identical to that of the RWWTF, many of the same people served on this Task Force, and that was to develop a strategy to address the septic problems in the State. We submitted a report to the ISDH in the Fall of 2005 outlining a strategy to begin addressing the problems. Should you want a copy of these reports I will attempt to get them for you.

Let’s talk about the St. Leon sewer issue. Mr. Hammond basically had the Individual cost for the initial connection correct except he did not go far enough and explain the ‘entire’ picture as to how that cost was established and why. The project was put together because there was a need to correct serious septic discharge problems in the Town and adjoining areas in the County. The least expensive method to do this was developed but because of lack of citizen cooperation it has become what it is. The connection package was arrived at by utilizing professional engineers and rate people. Some of the many pertinent factors used in arriving at the cost were:

1. Total number of customers to be served on the initial main line.
2. Reduced cost of equipment such as grinders, pipe, electrical, installation, etc. because of the large number to be connected.
3. Installation would be accomplished on a specified schedule and repayment of debt would commence on a timely basis.
4. Grant money was used to ‘buy down’ the user fees.
5. The Town needed to establish an Ordinance established along State Statute guidelines that would establish fees and MANDATORY connection to the system along those guidelines.
These factors among others were used to establish the connection fees and monthly user fees that would properly discharge the debt.

As time went on the Administration at that time discovered through due diligence that the incoming revenue was not meeting current expenses and covering the debt. It was discovered that the reason for this short fall was because there were in excess of 150 facilities not connected, and not paying fees, which should have been connected. Some of these people had paid their $400 connection fee and had grinder pumps installed but had not connected their premises to the tank and were not paying monthly user fees as was required. Mandatory letters were sent and the Town did get some to comply. Because this is a long process it was decided to do a rate study and subsequent adjustment of rates so as not default on notes due. Had the entire original customers connected to the system, a rate increase would not have been necessary at that time.

Some people use the argument that why should I disconnect my working septic tank? Let me ask you, what test have you used to establish your system is working? Do you use the following test?

1. My toilet flushes.
2. There is no standing sewage in by yard.
3. The Health Dept. hasn’t shut me down.
4. My neighbor hasn’t complained. (Perhaps his is failing so he won’t point a finger)
5. I haven’t gotten sick yet.
6. The worst one I heard, ‘no one has died’

There is NO inexpensive test to determine if a septic system is failing. There are few if any soils in this County that can support a conventional septic system. What if your septic tank is failing and the County Health Dept. says you need to repair or replace your system or have your house condemned? You will have to answer several questions:
1. Is my current holding tank large enough to meet current standards and requirements?
2. Will I have to replace the entire system?
3. Do I have an alternate spot to locate my drain field?
4. If I don’t have a site, what system if any can I install?
5. What will this new system cost? $5,000, $10,000, $15,000

The County Ordinance at one time mirrored the one of the Town of St. Leon. When it became necessary for them to support their own ordinance they backed down and changed it because they were not in a position to provide waste water collection. They continue to approve septic installations in areas where there are sewer collection lines available. You probably are aware that the County is attempting to establish a Regional Sewer District that would encompass the entire un-incorporated areas of the County. What will their ordinance look like when that is accomplished? LaGrange County, Indiana conducted a study on septic tank problems and I have a synopsis of that study titled “Septic Tanks Do Not Work – Period” I would be happy to send it to any one that requests it.

There is a way to work out the differences with the Town but calm heads need to prevail and a spirit of co-operation needs to exist rather one of confrontation.

Chuck Andres
St. Leon

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