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Permit appeal taxes Huntertown

Costs rise in wastewater plan

Appealing the state’s denial of a permit that would allow Huntertown to build its own wastewater treatment plant could end up costing the town hundreds of thousands of dollars with no guarantee that it would be allowed to build the plant.

For the third time this year, Huntertown has requested an extension on its appeal regarding the state’s denial of a permit that would allow it to build an $11.2 million wastewater treatment plant.

The latest extension could delay a decision by nearly a year and cost the town hundreds of thousands of dollars.

According to figures provided by Huntertown’s deputy clerk-treasurer, Janine Rudolph, the town had spent $223,088 in legal and engineering fees on the appeal process by the end of June.

In July, appeal expenses totaled $11,015, while August was $15,916.

In addition, town officials have four times extended an option – paying $1,000 to $10,000 each time – to buy a 26-acre site on Hathaway Road for $393,500 where they hope to build the new plant.

Huntertown Council President Sue Gongwer said Monday she had not yet seen the figures given to The Journal Gazette, but the council would have to “make some decisions” in light of the ongoing expense of pursuing the appeal.

“It’s not on our schedule, but at some point the council and utility board members will have to discuss this and decide what to do,” Gongwer said.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management turned down Huntertown’s request for a permit to build its own sewage plant about a year ago.

Huntertown filed an appeal, which is before the Indiana Office of Environmental Adjudication.

In May, Huntertown officials filed an extension of the appeal, requesting additional time to submit information requested by Fort Wayne City Utilities, named as an intervening party in the appeal process. Huntertown officials have filed for two more extensions since then, pushing the deadline to Dec. 16.

As the process continues, it’s possible a final hearing would not be until mid-summer, with a decision following in 60 to 90 days, according to the OEA case schedule.

Two of the five council members – Gary Grant and Mike Akers – voted against filing the appeal last year.

Grant said he is afraid for the town’s financial future if the appeal continues.

Huntertown’s budget for this year was about $1.7 million.

“While I was in favor of building our own wastewater treatment plant and thought IDEM turned us down for all the wrong reasons, I could not see spending that kind of money on an appeal,” Grant said.

While the town council was quoted an hourly rate by an Indianapolis law firm that agreed to represent it, there was no guarantee on a time frame, Grant said.

“We do not have that deep of pockets and that’s exactly why I voted no,” Grant said.

The appeal lists local resident, David Salomon, as a petitioner on behalf of the town. Salomon has bought and sold property to the town in the past.

Fort Wayne City Utilities has provided wholesale sanitary sewer service to the town of about 5,000 since 1998. That contract expired April 27, but City Utilities has continued to provide services.

In the meantime, Huntertown sued the city of Fort Wayne in Allen Circuit Court in June, asking a judge to invalidate Fort Wayne’s newly minted ordinance governing wholesale wastewater treatment customers.

In a countersuit dated July 2, City Utilities sued Huntertown, asking an Allen Superior Court judge for a review of rates and charges for the wholesale sewage service.