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Council apprised of $150 million tunnel plan

It will ultimately cost $150 million to construct, take seven to 10 years to complete and cause a rise in sewer rates.

But it will also reduce the amount of sewage that overflows into Fort Wayne’s rivers and keep the city in line with federal regulations, officials say.

The City Council heard some of the initial plans Tuesday for a 5-mile tunnel stretching from Foster Park to the wastewater treatment plant near Dwenger Avenue.

City Utilities officials presented preliminary plans that are a part of three ordinances calling for $15.1 million for final design and planning of the tunnel.

Council members unanimously gave the three ordinances initial approval.

A final vote will be taken later.

The tunnel, which will be 12 feet in diameter and 150 feet or more deep in the bedrock, is expected to be finished between 2022 and 2025.

It’s also part of an 18-year, $240 million effort to curb the flow of raw sewage into rivers.

The project will cause monthly sewer bills for average households to rise by about $3.44, officials have said previously.

Matthew Wirtz of City Utilities said designing and planning is expected to be done by 2017.

“We’re doing everything we can to keep costs down,” he assured council.

Currently, sewage overflows into the rivers 70 times a year. The new system will drop that to four times a year, Wirtz told the council.

The city needs a new system due to a settlement with the federal government over violations of the Clean Water Act.

During heavy rains, the city’s sewage system dumps about 1 billion gallons of sewage a year into the rivers.

The proposed system will cut that to about 100 million gallons, according to officials.

Council members asked if there were any chances of catastrophes while building the tunnel, such as a collapse, and what kind of equipment would be used.

The council was told the chances of a collapse were small.

Business study

Council members were also presented with the initial results of a $143,000 study begun two years ago to assess ways the city can improve access to city contracts for small and minority-owned businesses.

The study by Mason Tillman Associates found that many small businesses did not know about city contracts.

Or, said Heather Presley-Cowen, deputy director of the city’s Office of Housing and Neighborhood Services, small business owners never put in a bid because they thought they’d never get the job.

This was just Phase 1 of the study, she said.

“The next phase will give a lot more insight in how it feels to do business with us,” Presley-Cowen said.

She told council members that the city administration wants to spend an additional $67,800 on Phase 2 of the study.

The council took no action on the study.

Historic district

The old brick home in disrepair is hard to miss.

Especially since it looks like nothing else in the neighborhood along Tennessee Avenue just off Spy Run.

It was home to Fort Wayne’s first druggist and its first mayor to serve a full term – quite a feat, since he did it at a time when terms were one year.

Now, local officials with ARCH and the Fort Wayne Historic Preservation Commission want to designate 520 Tennessee Ave. as a historic preservation district.

The house was built in 1854 by Dr. Merchant W. Huxford, commission member Dan Orban of the told council members.

The architecture is of the Greek Revival style, he said, one of few such structures remaining in the city.

Huxford served three terms as mayor, beginning in 1846.

Before him, every mayor either resigned or was removed from office before his yearlong term was up.

City Council gave initial approval making the home a historic district by a vote of 7-1, with Marty Bender, R-at large, voting against.