State officials have tentatively rejected Huntertown's plan to build its own sewage plant, concluding that extending its treatment contract with Fort Wayne would best protect the environment.
Unable to reach a long-term rate agreement with Fort Wayne City Utilities, town officials had hoped to build an $11 million plant near Lima and Hathaway roads. But the Indiana Department of Environmental Management has decided not to issue the necessary operating permit, ruling that Huntertown “has not demonstrated that a new discharge . . . that would result in a significant lowering of the water quality in Geller Ditch is necessary because cost-effective measures that would prevent the proposed lowering of water quality are available by continuing to send their sanitary wastewater to Fort Wayne.”
Huntertown officials, however, don't consider that option “cost-effective.” The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled earlier this year that the town's wholesale contract with City Utilities will remain in effect until 2013 despite the city's claim that it had given notice to terminate the deal in 2002, allowing it to charge the town substantially higher retail rates. Huntertown officials have also been concerned that residents might have to help pay for more than $240 million in upgrades to Fort Wayne's system mandated by the federal government.
“(City Utilities) has stonewalled us on all fronts. They've never negotiated. It's been 'Take it or leave it,' ” Huntertown attorney Dave Hawk said. Hawk said the town will probably appeal IDEM's decision.
“My personal opinion is that I'm not ready to give up,” board member Sue Gongwer said.
City Utilities spokeswoman Mary Jane Slaton, however, said IDEM's decision “reiterates what Huntertown residents have been saying – that continued relationship with City Utilities is an affordable option and that further environmental degradation . . . is not necessary. (We) believe that a continued relationship will help ensure Huntertown stays competitive and continues to grow while enjoying some of the lowest sewer rates in the state.” The city recently sent letters to Huntertown officials suggesting a meeting.
IDEM's concerns about the plant's possible impact on water quality in the Geller Ditch follows a ruling by Allen County surveyor Al Frisinger last October that the plant could discharge into the ditch “without creating detrimental effects.” But Frisinger also noted that he did not mean to minimize nearby residents' concerns about the impact of discharging up to 1.5 million gallons of treated discharge daily into a ditch Frisinger said is already in need of improvements.
Gongwer was not sure how much Huntertown has spent to date on the sewage plant project, but said the town will probably not exercise its option to buy the proposed 26-acre site if it cannot build the plant.
Even after Huntertown decided to build its own plant, City Utility officials continued to press for a deal. Last September, they offered to cap annual rate increases at 3 percent through at least 2013 if Huntertown agreed to also buy its drinking water from City Utilities. The town currently provides its own water.