All options on table: Regional sewer plan being discussed

How can two regional sewer boards work together to provide wastewater treatment to possibly hundreds of homes in the northern part of Brown County?

On Feb. 17, the Brown County Regional and Helmsburg Regional sewer boards met virtually on Zoom to start that process. The two boards plan to meet for a work session in person in late March.

In November, HRSD member Jenny Austin had approached the BCRSD about working together to expand the sewer plant in Helmsburg. An expansion could allow the plant to take on homes in the Lake Lemon and Bean Blossom areas.

If more customers were brought into the Helmsburg sewer plant, it is possible that costs could be brought down for current customers. Sewer bills now are a flat $92.50 for residential customers. The HRSD customer base used to be larger and bills lower back when the For Bare Feet factory was operating.

The BCRSD has been working to bring sewer to the Bean Blossom area for around 20 years; it doesn’t have any sewer service. That project has been paused for more than a year as a location for the proposed sewer plant has not been finalized.

In years past, a few members of the two boards had tried to develop a partnership to come up with a solution to the sewer-related issues in both areas, but nothing official had come from those talks.

At the end of last year, two of the members of the HRSD — one founding member and another whose family members had served on the board for several years — both resigned. The new members are Kyle Myers and Brian Webb, joining Austin.

BCRSD also has two other projects it is actively working on. One is a study funding by the Regional Opportunities Initiative to look at wastewater conditions throughout the county, including determining the source of e.coli that has been found in streams and lakes.

The BCRSD also is working with the Lake Lemon Environmental Cooperative, a group of Lake Lemon residents who first asked the board for help getting sewers last March.

“The thing they (the projects) all have in common, at least two of them, is what do we do with the development and placement of a wastewater treatment plant to service some of those areas we’re talking about?” said BCRSD Vice President Clint Studabaker.

To provide that service, particularly to homes in the northern part of the county like the Bean Blossom, Helmsburg and Trevlac areas, the boards must figure out the right location and size of a treatment plant.

Helmsburg’s treatment plant sits in Helmsburg, between Lake Lemon and Bean Blossom.

“What we’ve been trying to determine is, how big is your plant? What condition is it in? Can it hold more waste? What is your plan to expand service to feed the plant? Is there room for some of the flows we’ve got coming from either east or west and is the room big enough to handle the large clusters of flow when we look at Lake Lemon or Bean Blossom areas?” Studabaker asked HRSD members.

A recent study showed that building two plants would be the most cost-effective option for sewer customers in that part of the county: one in Bean Blossom and one in Trevlac. Ethel Morgan of HomeTown Engineering studied seven options for a report that was released last March, trying to help boards determine how to provide sewer to the Bean Blossom-Helmsburg-Lake Lemon area.

Myers said that the only way to bring the cost down for current customers in Helmsburg is to bring on more users, “which means we have to expand one way or another,” he said.

“I’m very interested in joining forces and seeing what makes the most sense financially wise for our sewer district and for yours.”

Myers said the boards need to look at all options: expanding the existing treatment plant in Helmsburg, or building a new plant in the Bean Blossom or Lake Lemon areas.

“Does it make sense to make one big plant to serve all of us in Helsmburg, Trevlac and Lake Lemon? Or how much more can our plant take and can we easily expand that?” Myers asked.

Studabaker said these discussions will be important to building trust among the two boards to invest in an expansion, because past HRSD board members were against taking on debt to do so. In order to get additional capacity for a plant to accept flow from either Lake Lemon or Bean Blossom, additional funding would be required from low-interest loans or grants.

“The previous board was adamant on not wanting to spend money. We’re not going to be able to add users without spending some money to do so. Brian, Jenny and I realize that. We’re willing to move forward with that idea,” Myers said.

“It would be good to do the most good for the most people,” Austin said.

If the Helmsburg plant was going to expand to take on sewer flow from the Bean Blossom and Lake Lemon Areas it would have to be able to take in around 140,000 gallons a day, per Morgan’s report.

Studabaker said between two-and-a-half and five acres would be needed to expand the plant and have space for maintenance building, an office and equipment storage. The plant would also need a staff working five or seven days a week to address problems, he said.

He said that a rate study would show how the cost of the new plant would be spread among all customers. He predicted current Helmsburg customers would still pay less than what they do now.

BCRSD member Debbie Larsh asked if it would be possible to turn the Helmsburg plant into a processing and holding tank for a new regional sewer plant in the Trevlac area if that decision is made to avoid having multiple plants.

“We can’t have a bunch of small plants sprinkled across the county, but on the other hand, it may be also not that economically viable to have a single plant in the northern half of county,” Studabaker said.

How much more waste the Helmsburg plant can take is a question HRSD board members hope to answer by the March meeting.

The Town of Nashville also had talked with the HRSD board about running a line down Helmsburg Road to bring their flow to the plant in Nashville.

“We’re not sure if that is the most affordable or makes the most financial sense at this point in time without looking at other options as well,” Myers said.

Austin asked if a representative from Nashville should be included in these discussions.

Vicki Perry, state coordinator of the Indiana Rural Community Assistance Program, advised the boards to look at their limitations and wants first, then see if that fits in with what Nashville is doing. “Certainly, keeping that communication open is a good idea,” she said.

Studabaker said going down Helmsburg Road to bring flow back into Nashville is a long distance for 60 customers, but he thought that conversations with Nashville should continue. “They will go past an awful lot of potential customers in route,” he said.

“On the other hand, they have an important role in the bigger picture of how do we service the much broader Brown County area than just picking up Helmsburg?”

On the same night, the new Nashville Utility Service Board was meeting, too. Toward the end of their two-hour-long meeting, Nashville USB President Roger Kelso suggested getting in contact with other regional utilities, for water and wastewater, to see if there might be ways they can help each other, or at least know what the others were planning.

Other Nashville USB board members said that was a good idea for on down the road, as the Nashville wastewater plant has some issues the board needs to focus on first.

The HRSD and BCRSD boards are planning to have an in-person work session in March, facilitated by Perry, to see how they can best serve the northern Brown County area.

“Either way, there’s a need. Helmsburg needs customers, and you have customers to the east and west. Let’s put our heads together and see how we can make that happen,” BCRSD President Mike Leggins said.

All board members said they would read Morgan’s report before the next meeting. Austin suggested having Robin Willey also attend that meeting since he runs the Helmsburg and Nashville plants.

“I am optimistic and excited about how this can come together, because I think it can,” Studabaker said.

“We’ll get there.”