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Further problems for sewer project

– Huntertown got a double whammy Wednesday.

Fort Wayne City Utilities presented a plan to Huntertown residents that would lower their sewer bills and offered to pay the town $1 million toward the needed infrastructure for that plan – a plan that town officials had never seen before.

And just a few hours earlier, Huntertown officials found out the town would not be getting the $14.2 million state loan they had counted on to build a new wastewater treatment plant.

About 50 people showed up at Cedar Canyon Elementary to hear a presentation on Huntertown’s utility options from Ted Nitza of City Utilities. The audience was a mix of Huntertown and Eel River residents, businesses, and town and county officials.

The town wants to disconnect from Fort Wayne City Utilities, which treats the town’s sewage, and build a wastewater treatment plant. Negotiations between the two have stalled.

Nitza outlined an option that would require $4 million in new infrastructure in the Huntertown area – of which City Utilities would kick in $1 million – and allow for a new connection point with City Utilities that would allow for the town’s growth by increasing capacity.

The advantages to Huntertown collaborating with City Utilities included a $120-a-year savings on sewer bills for Huntertown customers; Northwest Allen County Schools would save about $60,000 per year; and Huntertown would have a contractually protected area for growth.

The connection and infrastructure system would allow Huntertown to add 4,000 customers, and there would be a protected service and annexation area for the town, Nitza said.

By not building a wastewater treatment plant and collaborating with the city, the town would avoid adding pollution to Eel River, where the proposed plant would discharge treated water – another advantage to the plan, Nitza said.

Huntertown Councilman Jim Fortman was in the audience and was surprised when he heard the plan. “This is the first time I’ve seen this,” Fortman said. “All these years we have been talking with the city, and this was never brought up.”

Fortman said he did not trust Nitza’s figures and still wondered what would happen to rates after a five-year projection period. “Will they go up in year six or year seven?” he asked. “I plan to check the engineering reports and numbers out myself,” he said.

The town had applied June 12 for a $14.2 million state loan to help pay for the proposed plant, but officials received word Wednesday that the town did not make the final cut of recipients.

Indiana’s revolving fund loan program provides low-interest financing for water quality protection projects. As loans are repaid, money becomes available again to finance new projects, ensuring a revolving fund.

Fortman said officials would consult with the town’s utility service board members about what happens next.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management denied the town’s first application to build a wastewater treatment plant two years ago, and new plans were submitted in May. The town has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars appealing the first denial, along with engineering and attorney fees related to the ongoing fight with City Utilities.

Huntertown recently received a permit to build a $4 million equalization basin to store and pretreat wastewater, which is necessary whether the town stays with City Utilities or builds its own plant. Several Eel River residents have appealed that project.