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New Middletown’s sewage treatment plan hurt by ‘misinformation’ campaign

I am writing in regard to the New Middletown wastewater project that is set to discharge its treated water into Buck Creek. Even though New Middletown pulled its request for funds, it does not mean the project is dead.
New Middletown is still moving forward with its wastewater treatment plan to alleviate the problem of failed septic systems and allow development on vacant lots. The only thing that happened last week is that New Middletown and Harrison County lost out on their only chance to obtain a Community Development Block Grant in the amount of $430,000.
Pulling the request was a very difficult decision to make but one that had to be made. As long as there is opposition to discharging into Buck Creek, New Middletown would never have been able to meet the eight-month time frame required with the CDBG funds. In order to do the project, New Middletown would have had to expend significant funds to get to the point that the Buck Creek Coalition could protest the Indiana Dept. of Environmental Management’s decision to allow the discharge into Buck Creek. The administrative process alone would cause New Middletown to put grant funds in jeopardy. With other options available, New Middletown could not take the risk. We believe IDEM’s decision would stand and New Middletown would prevail over the opposition. However, time is of the essence, and time is what we ran out of.
Unfortunately, false information was presented over and over again to the public to stimulate fears and rumors. I would be remiss if I did not dispel some of the false information. Some of the information below was provided by Bob Woosley of Heritage Engineering. (Heritage Engineering is the firm hired by Harrison County to help develop the Regional Sewer District).
1. Buck Creek is a pristine natural waterway.
Answer: Woosley spoke with Catherine Hess (IDEM Chief, NPDES Municipal Permits Section). Neither she nor Woosley is aware of any testing that proves Buck Creek is pristine and in need of protection. However, New Middletown ran cost calculations to run the discharge point to Little Indian Creek. Additional funds in the amount of $150,000 to $200,000-plus would have to be secured in order to change the discharge point. Not only that, there was no guarantee from IDEM that discharge limits would be set for Little Indian Creek since two other communities are currently discharging their effluent there.
2. The water flow in Buck Creek is often a trickle.
Answer: Effluent limits have already been set by IDEM to account for the flow variations in Buck Creek. Catherine Hess said she did not see any problems with discharging in the proposed location. She also said she felt the limits being set for effluent would NOT be detrimental to the creek.
3. There are other more environmentally sound alternatives.
Answer: IDEM will no longer permit the use of underground systems for treatment. It is IDEM’s current position and that of the State Board of Health to use alternative means of treatment when available. Their reasoning is that testing of the effluent can be performed at the discharge point. Testing the effluent of an underground system is not feasible and, in most cases, not possible. Some of the suggestions the coalition gave the town for possible resolutions would be to discharge effluent to a man-made lake in town. This sounds nice, but New Middletown sits on top of Binkley Cave. IDEM would never permit this option.
Another option was to give taxpayer money to individuals to repair their systems. I question the legality of this option.
4. Because Buck Creek is not a navigable waterway, the landowners own the creek bed.
Answer: Buck Creek is a ‘blue line stream,’ which means it is considered a navigable waterway. This does not mean one can drive a boat up and down the creek. It simply means that at times of the year there is sufficient flow to canoe or something of that nature.
5. Problems with wildlife due to low flow necessitating costly studies.
Answer: IDEM has taken into account aquatic life in the establishment of the effluent limits for the creek.
6. Problems with human health since all systems fail which will result in raw sewage being pumped into the creek.
Answer: Primary treatment of waste is by septic tanks. Effluent from treatment tanks (gray water) is the only ‘source’ of sewage. When pumps/power failures occur, there is no means for the effluent from the tanks to reach the filter system for treatment. The town is required to design emergency storage into the system to allow time for repairs and/or temporary power to be brought to the site.
7. The project is being rushed to a conclusion without proper study.
Answer: Harrison County has done three county-wide sewer studies in the past 30 years. Their most recent was within the last year and a half. The town completed its feasibility study in December of 2002. New Middletown first requested funds from the commissioners in January 2003. At that time, the town’s project was put on hold until the county could complete its study and thoroughly review the town’s plans. Two years later, the Harrison County Waste Water/ Storm Water Task Force and Heritage Engineering finally approved New Middletown’s plans and stated it was the best possible solution.
8. Town and county leaders may not be telling you everything. (Rumors of a $50 monthly rate and $17,000 future tap-on fees are being spread).
Answer: Part of the feasibility study completed by New Middletown included possible sewer rates for different funding options. The best option was a debt-free system in which the town obtained a CDBG grant. This grant would have allowed the rates to be as low as $35 per month. Other funding options included Rural Development with estimated monthly rates at $60 per month, as well as bank financing which would easily put the sewer rate over $100 per month. Tap-on fees would only apply to those who do not connect as part of the initial project. Tap-on fees have not yet been established. This will be set as part of the sewer-use ordinance that the Town/County will need to adopt as part of the final project.
9. The coalition has obtained taped video interviews and meetings that prove the Laconia sewage system has major failings.
Answer: At the commissioners’ meeting, Michael Bailey said anyone wishing to view the tape could contact him. I did just that and was denied access. He told me that Channel 32 had exclusive rights to the videotape. He then said I could view the tape when they interviewed me.
I have yet to be contacted by Channel 32. Apparently, they and others who have viewed the tape found nothing proving Laconia’s system is failing. For almost three years now, New Middletown has yet to see anything or have anyone prove to them that Laconia’s system is failing. All we have heard is rumors and innuendos, but have seen no facts. I believe in ‘innocent until proven guilty,’ or, in this case, functioning properly until proven not.
In May, I will graduate with a B.A. in sociology. To fulfill my degree requirements, I had to conduct surveys for research projects. In academia, surveys are conducted with all information provided in written form. The Buck Creek Coalition did no such thing. It was up to their representative to provide information arbitrarily in order to get signatures. I firmly believe the Coalition blatantly and purposefully attempted to misinform the public and scare residents into signing petitions under false pretenses.
New Middletown has been open and forthcoming with all the facts available. The town has held three public hearings on this issue. Not only that, but the county has held several public hearings regarding the regional sewer district in which New Middletown’s plans were discussed. New Middletown’s plans have been covered for several years in both The Corydon Democrat and The Courier-Journal.
This has been a sad time for New Middletown. Not only have the residents been hounded to sign petition after petition, but last week, because of rumors and false information, the town and its residents lost the best funding option available to them to solve their wastewater needs. I can only promise that the town is diligently working on other funding options that will make a wastewater treatment plan affordable to all of its residents.