Whitley County has weighed in on Huntertown’s plan to build a more than $14 million wastewater treatment plant and discharge the treated water into the Eel River.
Don Amber, a Whitley County commissioner, said recent remarks by a Huntertown official that the proposed plant “would be not only be good for our citizens, but for the region” does not take nearby Whitley County into consideration.
Amber is a representative of District 3, which includes Smith, Union and Jefferson townships, which are adjacent to Eel River, Lake and Aboite townships in Allen County.
“We already have flooding along Eel River, and I don’t see how it will not be made worse with 1.5 million gallons of water added daily,” Amber said.
According to the engineering report, in the first phase the plant will have the capacity to discharge 1.5 million gallons of treated water a day and in the third phase the plant will be capable of processing 3 million gallons a day.
Andrew Conner, president of the Huntertown Utility Board said he has been assured that the plant’s discharge would not cause any new flooding.
“All of the information we have received from engineers and surveyors have said there will be no significant increase in the river’s water levels and it would have no effect on the natural flooding of the area,” Conner said.
Positive reports, Conner said, were already received from the Allen and Whitley county surveyors in 2011.
The town is awaiting approval from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to build a $14.3 million wastewater treatment plant. IDEM issued a construction permit last week, but a second, environmental discharge permit is needed before the town can proceed.
Amber’s concern is not about pollution, but flooding. The area is largely agricultural, and Amber said the farmer’s plight would be made worse when normal spring flooding is exacerbated by an additional 1.5 million to 3 million gallons a day.
“I have to believe that it would be a significant change to the water the Eel River now carries,” Amber said. “Three million gallons each and every day is incomprehensible.”
A 2011 report by Allen County Surveyor, Al Frisinger, said the anticipated flows from the plant should be between 575,000 and 1.5 million gallons daily and that the existing channel (Geller Ditch which empties into the Eel River) would be sufficient to handle the flow without creating detrimental effects.
In 2012, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management rejected Huntertown’s original request to build a treatment plant because the discharge of treated water would pollute the Eel River. In May the town submitted a revised plan, which calls for discharging wastewater at another point along the Eel River.
Currently, Huntertown’s sewage is pumped to Fort Wayne and treated by City Utilities without a contract after Huntertown chose not to renew its long-standing agreement last year.
The original permit application included a discharge site near the plant site on Hathaway Road, closer to Lima Road.
The second proposal includes a different discharge site about four miles west of the plant site. The treated wastewater would be pumped west along Hathaway to Eel River Township and discharged upstream of Johnson Road into Eel River and Geller Ditch.
The surveyor’s report is still applicable, because the new discharge site is on the same ditch, just further downstream, said Derek Frederickson, an engineering consultant for the town.
Reconstruction of the ditch – including removal of sediment and restructuring some banks – will be necessary and will be handled by the surveyor’s office and funded by Huntertown, which will also be assessed maintenance fees, the report said.
Huntertown presented its proposal to Whitley County officials at an October meeting in 2011, Frederickson said.
The following year Amber testified at an IDEM public hearing. “I was told that if there was flooding in central Whitley County, we could call and request the plant be placed on bypass; now I don’t think that’s the case,” Amber said.
During wet weather events a bypass will store treated water and release it a little at a time so flooding does not occur.
Frederickson said that while the bypass was an option in the first application (which was denied) it is not necessary with the current proposal because the discharge point was changed.
“There’s no need for a bypass,” he said.
The town is also building a $4 million equalization basin to store and pretreat wastewater, Frederickson said.
Eel River Township residents have also voiced concerns about flooding, and 14 individuals have filed petitions with IDEM, objecting to the project.
Frederickson said the plant “will not raise the water level of the Eel River.”
Cut from the first proposal was a 10 million-gallon treated water storage basin designed to prevent flooding and equipment that would have measured downstream levels that would have triggered the storage of treated water during rain events.
Frederickson said that because the new discharge site bypasses the flat or low areas and is piped through a forced main line to Johnson Road, there is no need for the additional storage that was in the original proposal.
While the engineering report states that a new plant would remove Huntertown’s contribution to combined sewer overflows into St. Joseph and Maumee rivers by City Utilities, Amber said the size of those rivers can’t be compared with Eel River.
“I would think the Maumee or St. Joseph rivers would be better equipped to handle 1.5 (million) or 3 million gallons of treated water a day,” he said.
“I hope that if they build the plant, they have the decency to review the location and size of the Eel River and work with the drainage boards of each county that it flows through to minimize the damage,” he said.