Residents concerned about county’s plan to add sanitary sewer district

Residents potentially impacted by the proposed sanitary sewer infrastructure showed up with questions and concerns at the public hearing held Monday morning at the Dubois County Commissioners meeting.

The public hearing was to approve a resolution to petition the Indiana Department of Environmental Management for the establishment of the proposed Regional Sewer District — the next step in creating the legal entity necessary to operate. Around 30 people filled the room as Commissioner Chad Blessinger opened the floor for public comments.

For background, in January 2020, the county began exploring the creation of a sanitary sewer district to serve areas of the county with known issues. The project was further invigorated by the influx of funding that came in through the American Rescue Plan Act in late 2020 due to the pandemic. The county received about $8.4 million through ARPA, and the county sewage district project was listed as a top priority for funding along with the current broadband expansion underway across the county.

The county then hired Clark Dietz Inc. to assess the county’s current infrastructure and sanitary sewer needs. The comprehensive overview was provided in November 2021. It can be read here.

The study identified Haysville as the area with the highest need for sanitary sewer services; second on the list was the Dubois Crossroads area. The list can be found at the beginning of the report at the link included above.

Several factors pushed Haysville to the top of the list.

The Dubois County Health Department manages the permitting for septic systems, whether as a part of new home construction or a replacement system. However, any system installed prior to 1978, when the On-Site Sewage Disposal Rule was established, is not a permitted system. According to Dubois County Health Department Director Shawn Werne, any system that old has very likely failed and/or does not meet current guidelines.

According to the report, most of the residential and business structures in Haysville were built before 1978 and do not have permitted or inspected septic systems. Plus, these systems typically only have some form of a septic tank but no sewage disposal field to dispose of the effluent. As such, the straight discharges of sewage and ongoing septic failures have caused raw sewage discharges into neighboring creeks and drainage ditches.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) has detected elevated E. coli levels in this area watershed, and the Dubois County Health Department has received numerous public complaints on sewage disposal issues in Haysville. These are being addressed individually, but repairs are difficult due to the size of the lots and poor soil quality.

Due to the proximity to Portersville, the first phase of the Regional Sewer District includes the homes in that area as well as Haysville because it would be more expensive to come back later to add them. The infrastructure would connect both communities to the Jasper Sanitary Sewer System to be treated by the city.

The main question from the public was whether they would be forced to connect to the sanitary sewer system. According to the commissioners, the only reason a property would be forced to connect to the system would be if they have a failed septic system or if it is new construction within 600 feet of the sanitary sewer.

If your septic system is working properly, you won’t have to connect to the new sanitary sewer. If a home is sold, it will not be required to connect to the system if it has a working septic system. However, if an improvement or addition to a home required an update or improvement to the septic system, the property would be required to tap on.

Clark Dietz Consultant Mary Austin added that the benefit of tapping into the new system while it is under construction is that the initial tap-in fees would be included as part of the capital improvement project costs. The property owner would not have to pay for it out of pocket.

“So if you do decide to go ahead and move forward, even though your septic system is currently working, there is a benefit to doing it now, but it’s not required,” she said.

Ken Giesler, a Haysville resident, asked what type of system they were planning to install. He was concerned about the added expense on property owners if they were required to add sewage grinders and pumps. Austin said the system was gravity fed and would not require grinders unless the location of the property requires it to move the sewage to the system.

Another resident asked how they would be charged if they used well water and were not on any public water infrastructure. Austin said there is a national estimate for how to charge well-water usage that the property owner can use or they can install a meter on the well to track their water usage and report it. The sewer rate would be calculated based on that usage.

Regarding estimated rates, Austin noted it was somewhat preliminary to say, but for a system this size, the national estimate was between $70 to $90 a month. She added that their goal is to hit about $55, but that will be determined by the cost of installing the sanitary sewer and how many people tap on to it. “The more people that sign on, the lower the bill will be,” she said.

A property owner also asked if they could take advantage of installing the infrastructure to their home but not tap on it so they could take advantage of it being installed for free at the time of construction. Then, when the septic system fails – Werne estimated they have a 15 to 20-year lifespan in poor soil and up to 30 years in good soil — the homeowner could connect to the infrastructure. Austin said she wasn’t sure if that would be an option but would get more information to answer the question.

Property owners in the affected areas will receive a survey early next year to determine the number of people that plan on taking advantage of the system.

In regards to funding the district, the known issues in the affected areas place the county in a position to apply for special grants and funding options to pay for the infrastructure. Initial cost estimates in the 2021 report put the Haysville/Portersville project at about $24 million. According to Commissioner Blessinger, the next stage of engineering will give an updated cost for the first phase.

The commissioners approved the resolution unanimously to be sent to IDEM for approval.

The timeline moving forward is as follows.

Survey the residents/property owners in the areas will begin in December and run till March 2023; the preliminary engineering report, environmental report, and asset management plan should be finalized by the end of March; overall design should be done by September 2023 with permitting completed by August of 2023. Construction would begin in late 2023.