Ribbon-cutting highlights years of sewer planning

For more than 30 years, some residents around the Barbee chain of lakes sought to construct a sewer system that would replace outdated septic systems and boost the environment.

On Friday, the efforts came to fruition.

But given the extensive time it took – as a conservancy district in the early years  and later as a sewer district – not everyone who carried the vision lived to see Friday’s celebratory moment.

On Friday, local supporters, as well as representatives for three members of Congress, celebrated the completion of a $28 million Lakeland Regional Sewer District with a ribbon-cutting at the sewer plant on CR 100N – five miles south of the sewer district.

District officials, in tipping their hat to those involved, made it a point to recognize everyone who had helped.

Spouses of two of the original sewer district board members, Lowell Gilmore, who died in 2010, and Bob Sanders, who died earlier this year, attended the event.

“On behalf of former and current board members,” said district board president James Haney, we offer “a heartfelt thanks for everyone who made this project come from concept to reality.”

The perseverance of those involved from the beginning was apparent to many at the event.

“This is a very unique project in that it outlived most of the people who started it,” said Casey Erwin, a project manager for DLZ who oversaw the work.

Construction began in 2015 and the first customers began sending their waste to the plant in March, but original efforts began in the 1980s with the establishment of a conservancy district that attempted to do the work under a voluntary system with property owners.

But that effort lost steam in the face of residential opposition and the organization eventually disbanded in about 2003.

The sewer district was established about 10 years ago and $350,00 in tax revenues that had been collected by the conservancy district were eventually set aside for the district in a court ruling, according to Parke Smith, a district board member.

“That’s really what got this going,” said board member Mike Dewald. “If it hadn’t been for the seed money, I don’t think we could have done it.”

Among the many organizations  credited with making the project happen was the Indiana Rural Community Assistance Program, which provided training for board members and served as an excellent resource throughout the project, Haney said.

“No one on the board – prior and current – were ever involved in developing a sewer system, so we had a lot to learn. We learned a lot along the way,” Haney said.

Haney also thanked residents of the district who he said provided support and constructive criticism.

“Believe me, we didn’t do things right all the time,” Haney said. “Certainly, as a group, we listened to their criticisms and where it made logical sense, we were willing to adjust and make things right for the property owners.”

The district includes nine lakes that are part of the Barbee chain south of CR 500N and west of Ind. 13.

As of this week, about 605 customers have already hooked up and are receiving service. Another 900 permits for hook-up have already been granted. When complete, the district expects to have nearly 1,600 customers online.

Much of the cost of the project involves a large number of pump stations and lines that deliver the sewage to a plant five miles to the south near the VanCuren Ditch.

The plant represented about $6 million of the total project while about $17 million was spent on pump stations, grinders, connections and sewer lines, according to Erwin.

Smith said he thinks the success of the district could be a model for other communities. He said he was told it is one of the biggest projects of its kind in Indiana.

In some ways, it’s an insurance policy for the lakes and the environment.

“It’s primarily an environmental issue. When you think about the lakes regions and the number of small, part-time residences that had old and antiquated septic systems … certainly the quality of the groundwater and potentially well water and the affect on the lake could be impacted,” Smith said.

“We would hope to see increased quality of groundwater, well water (and) lake environment,” he said.

An open house will be held from 9 to 11 a.m. today at the wastewater treatment plant, 5002 E. CR 100N. The public is invited to attend and tour the facility.