A crowd of about 500 filled the gym at North Webster Community Center Saturday afternoon to hear details about the proposed regional sewer district for Tippecanoe and Chapman lakes.
Representatives from a group opposing the district greeted attendees at the door with stickers touting the website stopthesewer.org. Proponents and opponents appeared to make up equal parts of the attendance.
After introductions by Kosciusko County attorney Chad Miner, the meeting began with Ken Jones, of Jones Petrie Rafinski, an engineering firm that specializes in municipal public works, giving a PowerPoint presentation outlining the history of the sewer district and talking about other sewer studies done for Tippecanoe Lake, the oldest one dating back to 1970.
Jones said the proposal began with a grassroots effort to form a conservancy without help from the county. The conservancy gathered enough signatures on a petition to move forward, and presented itself to Kosciusko County commissioners earlier this year, but that idea has been set aside as the county looks instead at creation of a regional sewer district.
“After a great deal of discussion, the commissioners offered to sponsor the formation of a regional sewer district, and they recommended Chapman Lake be included,” Jones said. “The conservancy has indefinitely continued its next move pending the outcome of this action.”
Jones outlined the process for formation of the sewer district. The county commissioners and county council would have to approve the completed petition and then forward it to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, but not before Oct. 29, 30 days after Saturday’s meeting.
Jones went on to discuss the expected benefits from forming the sewer district; among them the protection of lake water and home property values.
The presentation spent significant time addressing concerns of those who oppose the sewer district, including the financial burden on homeowners and who would be required to hook up to the sewer and when.
Jones said each hookup would be financed with low-interest loans, likely from the federal government, and would be paid back on the monthly bills. Those with septic systems less than 10 years old can apply for an exemption for hooking up for up to an additional 10 years.
Jones recommended opponents of the sewer district do one of three things to plan for the long term: Call a septic installer, call a water well installer or get the numbers and do the math to see if a second septic system can be installed on their properties after their current ones reach the end of their usefulness.
The PowerPoint presentation is available by e-mailing the engineering firm at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also present were Jeff Rowe, from Umbaugh and Associates, and Pattie Zelmer, an attorney with Ice Miller. Both firms also have specialists in municipal works. Along with Jones, the trio took questions from 25 audience members over the last hour of the meeting.
Several in the audience expressed support for the project without asking specific questions. Others who oppose the district wanted specific information that isn’t known yet, such as the exact cost of the district, which Jones and Rowe said is estimated between $40 million to $42 million.
Jones said they have been talking with representatives of Warsaw, which is working to expand capacity, and Lakeland Regional Sewer District, which serves the Barbee chain, including Big Barbee Lake and seven others, about the idea of serving Tippecanoe and Chapman.
Engineers from Jones, Petrie Rafinski stayed after the meeting to address specific concerns.
As the public comment section of the meeting wore on, the crowd slowly thinned to about half its original size.
The next step is for the notes from Saturday’s meetings to be assembled and made part of the petition package that county government officials will have to vote on.
Those votes have not yet been scheduled.