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10-27-06 Sewer woes halt expansion plans

By Tim Cox

  The Northwood subdivision off state Route 703 needs new sewer pipes throughout the neighborhood, a fix that could cost $1 million or so.

  The revelation -- backed up by alarmingly high amounts of storm water infiltrating the system -- has put a $2.1 million extension of the Mercer County rural sewer system on hold. The proposed sewer extension was to serve unsewered areas along state Route 703 and replace small treatment plants in the Northwood and Idlewild subdivisions.

  The sewer project was scheduled for construction next year but Commissioner Jerry Laffin said Thursday the work is at least temporarily on hold until officials sort out the Northwood dilemma.

  If officials move forward with the project without addressing the aging sewer pipes in Northwood, it would result in residents there paying sky-high monthly fees due to the storm water reaching the sanitary system. Those monthly fees would come on top of property tax assessments to pay for the sewer main along the highway.

  Because sewer effluent is pumped to Celina for treatment, residents would end up paying for thousands of gallons of storm water that breach the sewer pipes. Some of the pipes date to the 1920s, officials said Thursday. During times of heavy rains, daily flow through the Northwood treatment plant tops 100,000 gallons per day -- roughly nine times more than the average daily flow.  Laffin and county sanitary sewer Manager Kent Hinton plan to meet soon with officers from the Northwood homeowners association to discuss the issue. There are 66 homes and numerous vacant lots in the subdivision.

  During a meeting Thursday with engineers from Arcadis FPS, Toledo, who designed the proposed sewer extension, Laffin said the company should have discovered the inflow and infiltration problem at Northwood before the plans were completed. The issue didn't crop up until a resident asked a question at a recent public meeting.

  Following that same meeting, which officials called a "fiasco," commissioners ordered proposed tax assessments recalculated because of some problems that surfaced. There were situations where residents were given estimated assessments that were too high or that were for undevelopable land.

  Laffin laid the blame for both setbacks on Arcadis. Specifically, he cited how the company pulled one engineer off the project.

  "You gave us a guy, took him away for another project and we got screwed up," Laffin said, noting the delays already have pushed the project behind schedule by two or three months.

  Arcadis officials apologized and agreed to do everything possible to get the project back on track.

  Cutting the Northwood subdivision out of the project is not a feasible option, commissioners and engineers said. The EPA is aware of the problems with the sewer system and likely will order a fix if the county ignores the issue, they said.

  Hinton said the Northwood collection and treatment system has "various and numerous violations." The system's sand filter freezes in the winter and the whole system is sometimes swamped by water that gets only "partial treatment," he said.

  There are several potential scenarios for bringing the Northwood pipes up to snuff, the engineers said. Slip-liners could be used to repair the existing lines or new gravity sewer lines could be installed. The best option, they said, would be to install new force mains and pumps to carry sewage into the planned extension of the rural system.

  Officials cautioned that the monetary estimates they gave are preliminary because the issue has not been thoroughly studied and the different options would carry different price tags. However, they pegged the estimated costs at $12,000 to $15,000 per household.

  The total bill, including design and construction, could hit $1 million or so, based on those preliminary estimates.

  Officials briefly discussed whether the sewer pipes should be replaced as a separate project or whether the current project should be modified to include the work. As a stand-alone project, the Northwood work likely would not qualify for no-interest loans county officials are hoping to secure to pay for the rest of the project.

  "It's going to be a tough one to figure out," Laffin said.


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