WHITLEY COUNTY — Residents of Stable Acres came back for round two with the Whitley County Regional Water and Sewer District during the board’s meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 15, this time joined by people in opposition of the Southeast Jefferson Township project.

The Southeast Jefferson Township project, formerly the Joseph Decuis Farm project, involves the elimination of a septic system and installation of a new sewer system on the Decuis Farm property that homes in the surrounding area would be expected to connect to.

These residents believe that the owner of the Decuis Farm property, Pete Eshelman, was the main source of water contamination problems in the area. In addition, despite Eshelman’s agreement to cover the costs of the project, he would likely lose very little money, if not gain money, from the customers who rent out the property for events and functions. The owners of the surrounding properties, though, feel they would not be able to comfortably afford the connection fees.

“The person who is claiming to be fixing the problem is the person causing the problem,” resident Terry Martin said. “He needs a sewer and I’m being asked to pay for it.”

Residents of Stable Acres made their presence known once again during public comment, rehashing the same complaints and arguments brought up at last month’s meeting. Doug Dyson also advised the board and public of a petition he was circulating that would be sent to various agencies including the Whitley County Commissioners, the Department of Health and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

People from both areas admitted that if this expense is placed upon them, they would likely have to move out of the area.

Moving onto business items on the agenda, Lana Beregszazi updated the board on the progress made with the various inter-local partnership agreements with area treatment plants. According to Beregszazi, Columbia City was still trying to work out a wholesale rate for the use of the facility, which was slowing down the agreement process. Churubusco’s agreement was reportedly “ready to sign,” but due to changes in leadership on the town council, the decision was made to hold off on signing it until everyone was up to speed.

Aqua Indiana, per Beregszazi’s report to the board, still refuses to budge on the connection fee of PRICE, despite efforts by Beregszazi to contact the company’s management. She advised that she was not giving up and would continue to negotiate with Aqua Indiana in an effort to keep costs to residents down.

“It’s a tight one and it’s a tough one but I’m going to continue to stick to it,” Beregszazi said.

Although these inter-local agreements have taken longer than expected, Beregszazi assured the board that the projects could continue to progress into the planning and design stages. The agreements do need to be signed before rate calculations begin to ensure the rate for customers is accurate.

Design proposals from five design firms looking to work on the first five projects entering the planning stage were also presented to the board during the Jan. 15 meeting. Each firm was given a score based on experience and cost and ranked accordingly. Board member Walt Crowder admitted that he did not feel comfortable selecting firms yet and requested more time to look at the bids.

Beregszazi informed the board that it could take more time, but doing so could mean the county would run the risk of project delays, which could prevent them from meeting the deadline to receive various grant monies or “forgivable loans,” which could increase costs of the project that would later be reflected in the calculated rate residents will be required to pay. It was also unclear how this delay would impact the engineering firms that may be looking at a tighter deadline to get these plans completed.

The rest of the board agreed that they wanted more time to look over the proposals, and voted 5-0, with members Don Amber and Brooks Langeloh absent, to table the selection process until a later date when a special meeting would be convened.

The board also approved a request from Stable Acres to organize an informational meeting with representatives from various agencies involved in the planning process to answer resident questions.