About 200 Bean Blossom and Woodland Lake property owners may receive a letter from the Brown County Regional Sewer District before the end of the month.

It will invite them to a meeting Tuesday, Aug. 2 to learn about a proposed route for a new sewer system and how it will affect them, said Evan Werling, president of the district board.

The letters are the latest step in a nearly two-decade effort to bring sewer service to the area.

The route has been through several revisions over the years.

It is now proposed to run from the northernmost intersection of Old Settlers Road and State Road 135 North, south to Gatesville Road. Then it would follow Gatesville and Bittersweet roads, and a power line right-of-way that crosses east to Woodland Lakes.

Why a sewer?

Few areas of Brown County are well-suited to a traditional septic system, Werling said, basing his view on data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Factors such as population density and lot size are made worse by poor soil.

Bean Blossom has a longstanding reputation for septic problems, he said. Woodland Lake is not far behind.

Reports have shown alarmingly high levels of E.coli bacteria in the Bean Blossom area.

Even apparently functional septic systems may be releasing incompletely treated human waste into the ground if those systems are outdated or not designed for the clay soil of Brown County, said the health department’s John Kennard.

Board member Mike Leggins said it also doesn’t help that many septic systems aren’t properly maintained.

Ideally, septic systems should have solid waste pumped out every two to three years, said Vicki Perry, state director for the Indiana Rural Community Assistance Program. In places that are already economically challenged, users might not even pump them out every five or 10 years.

According to Indiana law, if a regional sewer district is able to show need and have funding for a project, it can force people to connect to a sewer system.

Board member Debbie Larsh has said she doesn’t want to do that. However, the board may be forced to use its powers to mandate hookups in order to receive grants, Perry cautioned.

If a significant number of people attempt to fight mandated hookups in court, that could ultimately drive costs too high for the project to work for anyone, Perry said.

At the Aug. 2 meeting, Werling plans to share an update to a 2014 report that demonstrates the need for a sewer and examines options for addressing that need. The report is required to obtain federal funding to undertake a sewer project.

Werling said this is the final report that will be done for the Bean Blossom area.

If the project does not succeed, the board will move on to other projects, and Bean Blossom will be left with what it has, he said.

Kennard believes that if conditions continue to deteriorate in Bean Blossom, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management could mandate at any time that the county install a sewer system.

In that case, all of the costs of the multimillion-dollar project would fall on county government.

Even if IDEM does not act, individual property owners might find themselves with land and buildings they cannot use if the county health department condemns them and there is no place on the land to put a new septic system.

Failure to install a public sewer also would lead to continued pollution of Bean Blossom and areas downstream with human waste, such as Lake Lemon, the report said.

Reaching out

Brown County geographic information systems coordinator Tom Reoch reviewed satellite images to determine which property owners might be in the path of the proposed sewer line.Under state law, a regional sewer district may force anyone with a building that discharges septic waste within 300 feet of a sewer line to hook into the sewer.

If the property borders a lake, river or reservoir, only the property line has to be within 300 feet of the sewer line.

If a property within 300 feet is part of a larger subdivision, the district can force connection of any property in the subdivision, regardless how far that specific property is from the line.

Finding the owners of all those properties can be difficult.

Current addresses are only as accurate as the property cards, which are updated through the Brown County Assessor’s Office. When an owner moves, it is up to them to update their mailing address.

On the list Reoch generated, 60 of the about 192 mailing addresses were outside Brown County.

Werling said the board has done a “tremendous amount of outreach,” such as walking and driving affected neighborhoods.

Leggins walked Old Settlers Road and talked with his neighbors about the project.

He said he found almost unanimous approval. Most people were relieved to know something might be done about what they see as a serious problem with failed septic systems in the area, he said.

On the Web

Are you in the path of the proposed sewer line in the Bean Blossom area? Check the address list below:

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Ben Kibbey is a Brown County transplant from the cornfields of central Ohio. He covers county government, business, outdoors, sports and general news.