Rushville Mayor Mike Pavey has appointed a special “blue ribbon” committee to address impending environmental mandates that will affect the city’s wastewater treatment plant.
During Pavey’s annual State of the City speech in January, he discussed this topic, describing it as a potential “fiscal cliff” for the city of Rushville.
In 2008, shortly after taking office, then Mayor Merv Bostic signed an “Agreed Order” with the state of Indiana. The Agreed Order dictates that the city agreed to “settle and compromise without action, hearing, or adjudication” the issue of remediating its final Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO).
The signing of the Agreed Order started the clock ticking for the completion of the project. The completion date of the project as it exists today is 2022. Therefore, according to the Agreed Order, by 2022 the city must have constructed a system that will eliminate all CSO occurrences.
Failure to do so could cause fines to be levied against the city.
“This topic is now a huge point of conversation. How do we navigate the repercussions this will have on our community?” Pavey said. “This is a hugely impactful topic for all CSO communities, and we need to make sure we put great effort and thought into how we move forward.”
As a result, Pavey has assembled a committee to discuss all the city’s options.
The blue ribbon committee consists of representatives from the Utility Service Board, Board of Works & Safety, City Council, the mayor, the utility superintendent, and the economic development director.
The committee is tasked with investigating a wide array of options that include but are not limited to slowing down the process to allow time to lobby state and federal elected officials for other alternatives and funding; investigating a storm water utility; to break the project into smaller, more fiscally manageable projects; phase in the projects; compare low interest rates and lower cost construction versus an onerous one-time rate increase.
The committee held its first meeting March 6 and has already determined that it appears the utility is operating with a negative cash flow and has below-recommended cash reserves.
The committee has requested that Todd Trinkle, IDEM-CSO project manager, meet in a public meeting with the Utility Board, City Council, the Board of Works and Industrial Redevelopment Board.
“This will not be a tar and feather meeting, but one where we receive information and exchange ideas and options,” committee member Ron Jarman said.
The committee has also requested the financial consulting firm that is performing the rate study meet with the consultant that has been analyzing the city’s financial performance.
Pavey said it is the committee’s belief that bringing these experts together will facilitate better discussion to assure the city and utility customers that all options are being considered.
Finally, the committee has been tasked to gather information regarding the benefits, requirements and restrictions when considering a storm water utility.
Combined sewer overflows are prevalent in many older communities. Many older communities built sewer systems that were a combination system which allowed raw sewage, downspouts, basement drains and storm water drains to all feed into the wastewater treatment plant. Because the wastewater treatment plant was only built to a certain capacity, in instances of heavy rain the inclusion of the rain water in with the raw sewage lines can lead the plant to reach its capacity.
When the plant overflows, it dumps the combination of storm water and raw sewage into the river. This occurrence is referred to as an overflow.
Although CSOs were permitted many years ago by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM), the state has now mandated that this past permitted practice should no longer exist, regardless of the cost to the utility customer.
Newer systems separate the raw sewage from storm water.
IDEM oversees all communities that have combined sewers. These communities are required to provide IDEM with a Long Term Control Plan (LTCP), which spells out how they plan to address the elimination of their CSO condition.
The LTCP developed under the Bostic Administration focused on three options to address the issue: Separation of all combined sewers at a cost of $13 million dollars, create off-site storage at a cost of $16 million dollars, or build a secondary treatment and clarification treatment facility at the cost of $8.6 million dollars.
The current administration has focused its attention on a CSO Treatment Facility.
Further, the Utility Service Board has indicated there are needed improvements to the existing facility to replace equipment that had an estimated life of 20 years that has now been in service for 40 years.
The city is also challenged with building water and sewer inclusion in construction of Phase II of the 16th Street extension.
The total cost of the treatment facility option and associated projects is estimated to be $7,850,000.
“We are moving in the right direction, but I fear the impact will still be too great to take at one time,” said Pavey. “If we could rewind the clock, this would have been a perfect project for stimulus money.”
“We are investigating how many other communities are wrestling with these similar issues and how they are addressing the associated financial burden. The mayor, rightfully so, has genuine concerns about the dramatic rate increase this project will cause, and especially its impact with fixed-incomes,” said John McCane, Rush County ECDC Director. “We also have to be aware that setting utility rates too high could limit our competitiveness in the economic development arena.”
“This investigation will likely be so comprehensive that we spend some time looking at the drainage issues that have plagued the north side of Rushville since its inception. There is no need to put Band-aids on a condition that needs surgery,” Pavey said.
Due to the complexity of this topic, Pavey warned that a resolution will not come overnight. The committee will continue to discuss all available options, he said.
– Rushville Republican