By Tim Cox
East Jefferson Township residents overwhelmingly want county commissioners to build the area its own water plant, according to the early results of a poll of 400 households and businesses in the area east of Celina.
County officials already have received back 122 responses from 400 postage-paid survey cards that asked residents a couple of questions about their drinking water. The cards also offered a space for residents to write down any comments they had about the issue.
Commissioners are polling residents on the water issue before they decide whether to proceed with a plan to build a new groundwater treatment plant and replace existing pipes in the township along with the aging water tower. The water district now buys its water from the city of Celina.
The East Jefferson district includes the areas of Harbor Point, Highland Park and Lake Acres neighborhoods, as well as homes scattered throughout rural areas of the township.
Residents were asked only two questions on the survey and simply had to mark "yes" or "no" for their answer. The first question was, "Are you satisfied with your current water quality?" The second question was, "Do you wish the county to pursue a (groundwater) well plant system?" Residents were not asked to weigh in on whether the county should partner with the city to resolve both entities' water problems.
Commissioners said they were thrilled with the early response to the survey with more than a quarter of the cards mailed back within just a few days. The surveys were mailed out to residents one week ago today.
More than 90 percent of respondents so far favor the county building its own water system. Only a handful said they were satisfied with their water now and some of those are rural residents with their own private wells who are not served by the county water district.
Dozens of residents offered written responses, most of those urging commissioners to move forward with their plans.
"Press on and do not wait on the political games that have been played for years," one female respondent wrote.
Several residents made references to the city's ongoing struggles with high levels of trihalomethanes (THMs) in the water, which are caused by a combination of the high organic content of the water drawn from Grand Lake and the city's chlorination process. The city is under EPA orders to correct the problem by November 2007.
"Would rather pay the county for groundwater than the city for lake water," the comments on one survey card said.
"I think this is a no-brainer," wrote another resident. "We have given Celina many years to improve the water and time is up."
Some residents in the past have objected to the current system of buying water from the city because rural residents pay a surcharge for the water yet have no political representation within the city.
"As far as we are concerned, Grand Lake is contaminated. Don't wait on the city of Celina," another card said.
A rural Celina woman summed up the pro-county comments best.
"We have been drinking Celina water with very high levels of THMs for way too many years," she wrote. "Use your experts, weigh your options and choose a plan and then implement it immediately. In other words, let's get on with it."
Not everyone favors the county building its own water system.
"The county has demonstrated its inability to use tax dollars efficiently," one critic wrote.
Commissioner Jerry Laffin said county officials will wait another couple of weeks before deciding exactly how to proceed. County officials had been holding up a decision not only so Celina officials could decide if they want to partner with the county, but also to see if a proposed ethanol plant is built in the eastern Jefferson Township area.
"We will look at a plant that could be easily expanded," Laffin said. "We've waited long enough. We're going to start proceeding to see which way we're going to go."