Tippy conservancy district proposal faces growing opposition

Less than a month after Kosciusko County Commissioners criticized plans to establish a conservancy district to construct a sewer district around Tippecanoe Lake, they are weighing support for alternative plans.

At the same time, a large number of property owners who signed a petition to support the conservancy district have taken action to have their names removed, apparently feeling they had been misled.

An organized opposition group, though, continues to make progress in an attempt to sideline the conservancy district plan.

A week ago, Friends of Tippy – a group opposed to creation of a conservancy district – expressed interest in the county supporting a study on the need for sewers around Tippecanoe Lake.

On Tuesday, they modified their request to see if the commissioners would be interested in asking Lakeland Regional Sewer District to expand and serve Tippecanoe Lake if an engineering study warrants the establishment of sewers.

Any kind of concrete movement, though, would depend on results of the study, said Scott Reust, an attorney representing Friends of Tippy.

If a study determines sewers are needed, “a regional sewer district is unquestionably the preferred way to do that over a conservancy district,” Reust said.

Reust added, “Our first goal is to have a study done and we prefer the study be done and supervised by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.”

Friends of Tippy, as well as all three commissioners, have voiced concern about the idea of a conservancy district because of the ability to establish a tax to support sewer construction.

Tippecanoe Lake Sewer Initiative, a group behind the conservancy district plan, has collected the signatures needed in the initial steps toward establishing a conservancy district.

On Tuesday, the county commissioners signaled an interest in seeking comment from Tippecanoe area residents about the idea of asking Lakeland Regional Sewer District to expand and serve Tippecanoe Lake.

Friends of Tippy will now work to show support for an alternative plan by collecting signatures. The petition isn’t a legal step, but rather a way to show support for an alternative.

Friends of Tippy are likely expected to present signatures of support to the commissioners at its Jan. 9 meeting. Based on public input, the commissioners could then ask Lakeland to consider expanding.

Lakeland Sewer District came together after failed attempts to establish a conservancy district. It serves the Barbee chain, including Big Barbee Lake and seven others.

The sewer system went online this year and has already connected with 80 percent of its customers, according to Sue Ann Mitchell, a member of the Lakeland Sewer District board of directors who represents the county council on the board.

She attended Tuesday’s meeting and said the board is aware of concerns surrounding the conservancy district proposal.

Whether Lakeland has the capacity to consider the move is unclear.

“We’re willing to talk about it, and if we get the facts and figures, then we can make a rational decision,” Mitchell said.

Lakeland’s board meets next at 6 p.m. Jan. 17 and the subject may well come up for discussion. Board meetings are held at 5002 E. CR 100N where the treatment plant is located.

The commissioners have the authority to issue a request to the RSD to consider expanding.

“We want to see how much interest and see what kind of arguments there are so they can make an informed decision on it,” said county attorney Chad Miner.

The group pursuing the conservancy district, which has a website, sustainourlakes.com, is aware of the opposition and posted a rebuttal on its website.

“We want to clear up the misrepresentation of facts that has been presented by opposing community members who simply haven’t afforded themselves the time to understand the advantages of a conservancy district over a regional district,” said  Joe Tynan, leader of the TLSI, in a statement on  the group’s website.

“It is unfortunate that the people who want the most cost-effective solution are opposing the only structure that is in fact led by our very own residents who will make responsible, informed decisions, with required public input, under the same tax guidelines as any other structure. The difference is that a regional district would be led by government bureaucrats who will likely require higher costs that will be dictated to us.”

Meanwhile, dozens of property owners  have sought to have their names removed from the group’s legal petition, according to county auditor Michelle Puckett.

The office has received paperwork from  “well over 100” people wanting their names removed, she said.

Puckett said she could not provide a specific number of how many names were removed because there were some redundancies as husbands and wives both took action.

Friends of Tippy contends organizers behind the petition misled homeowners when seeking signatures.

Puckett said her office is expected to certify the number of valid names on the petition by the end of the week.

That information will then be forwarded to an attorney representing the Tippecanoe Lake Sewer Initiative.

The petition would be part of the paperwork that would be filed with a Kosciusko Circuit Court which would consider the request, Puckett said.