Tippecanoe County Commissioners approve master utility plan

The Tippecanoe County Commissioners voted to approve the Master Utility Plan, which aims to update septic and water systems in Americus, Buck Creek and Colburn.

Posted: Sep 23, 2019 11:56 PM
Updated: Sep 24, 2019 9:48 AM

TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) - The Tippecanoe County Commissioners voted to approve the Master Utility Plan, which aims to update septic and water systems in Americus, Buck Creek and Colburn. 

The study was funded by a matching grant from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs. Commissioner Tom Murtaugh said the county came up with $5,560 and OCRA doubled it. The study looked at three main areas of improvement for these communities: drinking water, wastewater and stormwater. Wastewater is currently the most urgent of the three, followed by stormwater then drinking water.

Barbara Knochel is the Washington Township Trustee. She said the sewage problems have gotten to the point where they can't be ignored.

"There was a home in the Buck Creek area did have sewage coming up in their yard and it was through a broken tile," she said. "I believe that has been addressed but it was a temporary fix. So that prompted to look at the entire system in Buck Creek, and that Americus and Colburn are similar in age and would probably have the same problems soon."

The study analyzed the best means for integrating this new system into these communities. For waste and drinking water, there were three options.

The first would be building an individual water treatment center in each of three towns. The second was building a centralized water treatment center in one town, most likely Americus, that all three towns feed into. The third was to connect the towns to existing water systems in Delphi or Lafayette and pay those cities to use their systems.

The purpose of the study was to find out which option made the most financial sense, in the short and long term. The contractors looked at how much it would cost just to implement the new system, as well as maintaining the system over time. The option that won was the centralized water system. 

It would cost about $8.9 million to install the central system and would cost about $12.6 million to maintain over a 20-year period.

An audience member asked how this will be paid for, seeing as there is a small number of people living in these towns that have a modest income. Murtaugh said they haven't finalized how to pay for it yet, but that they will apply for grants through the state to offset the costs. He said that Governor Eric Holcomb's administration is putting these kinds of projects on the front burner statewide and that there are more funds available for grabs. 

Knochel said the size of property lots is a major roadblock for this project.

"The three communities have small lots and with current standards, a lot of them could not handle the new septic systems," she said. "Some of these lots, especially in Buck Creek, only have 10 feet between houses and don't go that deep."

One citizen brought up the concern of subdivision developers wanting to build around these towns in the agriculture fields, once the sewer systems are updated. The commission did not have an answer for them at Monday's meeting.

How will the county get the land for this new water treatment facility? Asked another citizen. The commission said they would most likely have to purchase private property in Americus, however, nothing is set in stone.

The commission said it wants to be as proactive as possible and have a plan in place in case a sewage or sanitation crisis happens in the near future. However, they expect it will be two to three years at the earliest before they can start on the wastewater portion of the project. Drinking water and stormwater systems will be addressed down the road.

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