The Brown County Regional Sewer District is reevaluating its options for sewage disposal again, three months after voting to build a plant in Bean Blossom.
Four representatives of state funding and assistance agencies attended a special meeting Monday morning, April 3 about financing for the project. So did about 15 members of the public.
But after asking for an update on what the project is, Jim McGoff from the Indiana Finance Authority said Brown County isn’t ready for the financing step.
“At this point in time it sounds like the project has not been finally defined from a standalone plant versus other regional options, being either to Nashville or to another neighboring utility,” McGoff said.
The Brown County Regional Sewage District and its predecessor, the Bean Blossom Regional Sewage District, had studied options in a preliminary engineering report that has been revised at least three times in the past 13 years.
Regional options included running sewage to the Nashville plant or to the Helmsburg plant, both of which are operating under capacity. Nashville’s plant had enough capacity to take on the expected flow from the Bean Blossom, Woodland Lake and Freeman Ridge area; Helmsburg’s did not when engineer Gary Ladd studied it in 2009.
Ladd’s most recent report revision showed that building and operating a plant in Bean Blossom would be cheaper than running wastewater to Nashville. However, preliminary funding scenarios showed a Nashville treatment option could be cheaper for customers.
Figures that Vicki Perry, the state director for the Indiana Rural Community Assistance Program, shared with the sewer board, the county council, county commissioners and health department in March showed a projected monthly cost for customers ranging from $102 to $110 for a Bean Blossom plant, and from $66 to $74 per month for the Nashville option. However, no formal requests for funding or offers have been made and those figures are subject to change, Perry and the potential funding agencies stressed.
Because the sewer board didn’t act on the offer the Nashville Town Council made for wastewater treatment in December, the town has since withdrawn that offer.
Sewer board member Debbie Larsh told fellow board members at the April 3 meeting that she was “kind of confused” to hear that the board was reconsidering the options since they’d already voted to build a Bean Blossom plant — though she understood the rate projections weren’t very favorable for that option.
Board President Evan Werling told her that another option has opened up that would help achieve what the State Revolving Loan Fund would like to achieve through regionalizing the systems, but until the board approaches that other entity to see if it is a real possibility, he didn’t want to discuss it more in public.
Board Secretary Nina Leggett announced at a sewer board meeting the next night that Helmsburg was that other option.
Leggett also mentioned the possibility of doing a Bean Blossom-only sewer project, not bringing in Woodland Lake or the Freeman Ridge area as had previously been discussed.
Werling said building a plant in Bean Blossom along Gatesville Road is still the preferred plan, and it was chosen “for economic reasons as well as for transport flow reasons,” mentioning piping sewage up Bean Blossom Hill to the treatment plant on the west side of Nashville. There was concern about what would happen if power failed to serve the pumps that push the wastewater up the hill.
He said the board would be talking with state agencies about what alternatives they still want the board to pursue.
McGoff said state agencies prefer regional solutions for wastewater treatment.
One reason is environmental. Getting a permit for a new discharge point can be tougher than getting a permit to connect to an existing one, he said.
Another reason is that plant operators are in high demand and short supply these days and can be expensive, especially for small communities, he said.
The Indiana Finance Authority tries to provide additional incentives if regional solutions are selected, but there are no guarantees, as everything is dependent upon fund availability, McGoff said.
Craig McGowan, southern district director of community programs for USDA Rural Development, said when the Bean Blossom project is further defined, his agency and the revolving loan fund will check to see that all alternatives have been reviewed and help Brown County decide where funding is available.
The Brown County Redevelopment Commission backs the sewer board’s plan to build a treatment plant in the Bean Blossom area, President David Redding said.
At the request of Helmsburg residents, the RDC has been working to help that community clean up abandoned properties. It’s also been getting legal steps in order so that business and residential development could eventually come to that area.
Helmsburg has much of the “critical recipe” of infrastructure that developers need, and having a wastewater treatment plant in the State Road 45-Gatesville Road corridor could be a good thing for that region, Redding said.
The sewer board’s plan is to get loans and/or grants to run sewer lines and connect them with a treatment plant, and to build or upgrade that plant if needed.
McGoff said the IFA’s State Revolving Loan Fund has helped communities with infrastructure projects for 25 years, recently working with Brown County Water Utility to find financing for new water lines.
He said the interest rate the state offers communities is based on median household income and on user rates. In areas with lower median income and higher user rates, the interest rate is lower, he said.
If the community is trying for a federal grant, a house-by-house survey might be required to gather income data, he said. If it’s trying for the state loan program, other sources of data may be sufficient.
John Kennard, a former sewer district board member and one of the county officials charged with septic system oversight, asked how much documentation the state needed to have about the need for the sewer project, like how many properties have failing septics.
The sewer board had requested a “boots on the ground” survey by the state health department, which didn’t happen. Kennard asked if mailing cards to each property owner on the proposed sewer line route, asking if they want sewer service, would gather sufficient data.
McGowan answered a similar question with “you’ll want to have something that shows you’re addressing a need in the area.” He said he hadn’t reviewed Ladd’s engineering report yet, but Ladd, who was in the audience, said it covered the need.
Werling could give no update on the timeline for when sewer construction might begin.