Bean Blossom sewer project details discussed


Mike Leggins bought six lots on Old Settlers Road in 1988. He razed the vacant, condemned or burned-out homes that stood on them and put up five new ones — family homes, with three or four bedrooms.

The septic systems that served them soon failed, even though the systems were new. Leggins said the high water table was to blame; waste was hitting the groundwater before it had been sufficiently filtered and cleaned.

Now, Leggins, the landlord, has to use those homes as if they were two-bedroom homes in order to not put strain on the septic systems — and even that doesn’t prevent them from sending waste downhill, he said.

He isn’t the only business owner who’s dealing with sewage flowing where it shouldn’t, including at the back door of his own home, he said. Brownie’s restaurant, the Bill Monroe Music Park, the Bean Blossom Trailer Court — all of these have been put on one-year state waivers that allow them to operate despite their wastewater challenges, as long as they follow procedures, Leggins said. But it isn’t guaranteed that the state will keep giving waivers.

Bean Blossom needs to do something to fix this, or it’s going to lose the few businesses it does have left, Leggins told the crowd at a public hearing last week about installing sewers in the Bean Blossom area.

“This is the answer for the community, I think, and it’s what we all need,” he said.

He didn’t find much support for that idea in the audience.

“I think you made a really bad real estate purchase and you’re trying to put it on the taxpayers to bail your tail out,” said resident Sherrie Mitchell.

About 40 people showed up on June 19 to hear from the Brown County Regional Sewer District Board about the need for this sewer project, what it’s going to cost residents, and what building it — or not building it — might mean for the future of their community.

A few speakers, after hearing the board’s hourlong presentation, said they hadn’t made up their minds because they had unanswered questions.

However, most voiced their objections to the project. A Nashville police officer was called shortly into the start of the comment period when Mitchell refused to yield the floor after her two minutes at the mic were up.

“I’m sorry, I’m not going to allow that,” she answered, when sewer board President Judy Swift Powdrill told her she was over her allotted time.

“I have every right to come in here and talk as long as I want. … You guys got an hour, so I’m thinking I have an hour,” Mitchell said.

Swift Powdrill then banged the gavel and said she was going to adjourn the meeting. The meeting continued, though, and for nearly an hour and a half, speakers kept coming to the mic.

Who and why?

About 275 customers would be served with this project, along State Road 135 North and its offshoots in the Bean Blossom area, the Bean Blossom Trailer Court, Old Settlers Road, Bittersweet Road, Little Fox Lake, Woodland Lake, Covered Bridge Road and Freeman Ridge Road, as well as parts of State Road 45 and Gatesville Road.

Board members estimate that it will take about three years for a new wastewater plant to be built, possibly across from the Brown County Dragway on Gatesville Road.

The plan is for the sewer board to apply for a combination of low-interest loans and grants from state and federal sources. Building it is estimated to cost $7.355 million.

On June 18, the Brown County Council voted to set aside $270,000 of its rainy day fund for initial expenses to get the project started.

Sewer customers would pay a monthly sewer bill. The board hopes that it can be kept within the $65 to $85 range, but they won’t know for sure what is possible until they hear from the funding agencies.

Four of the five sewer board members, all of whom are volunteers, said that improving and protecting the environment is the root reason they want to see a sewer system finally get built. The Bean Blossom project has been talked about since the early 2000s.

One of the longest-serving members of the sewer board, Deborah Larsh, said she initially joined the board to fight the project, but as she learned more about it, she decided it would be a positive thing because she wants to see the community grow back into the thriving place it used to be.

Bean Blossom used to have three or four gas stations, three restaurants and beautiful trees that arched over the highway like big umbrellas, she said. Now it has no gas stations, and its only grocery store closed and was later turned into a Dollar General.

“I don’t want to see Bean Blossom die,” said Larsh, who’s lived there most of her life.

Regarding the sewer project, “We’ve been to the edge of this cliff several times, only to get pulled back, so I’m hoping we can finally put on those parachutes and fly off that cliff and get it done,” she said.

Mitchell challenged the notion that building sewers will bring back any of the businesses Bean Blossom used to have. Back then, they were running on septic systems, like most of the county is now, she said. Larsh said some of those businesses may have had outhouses.

Sewer board member Clint Studabaker, a retired environmental and civil engineer, said the danger in not having sewers is that E.coli and other types of bacteria can leach into groundwater and streams, such as Bean Blossom Creek. That’s a common occurrence all over America, he said, specifically mentioning an enteric disease outbreak in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the early 1990s that killed 104 people.

Bean Blossom Creek has been on the state’s “impaired waters” list for several years primarily because of the high levels of E.coli in it, Studabaker said.

Sewer board member Phil LeBlanc, a retired soil scientist, said that the average age of septic systems in the Bean Blossom area is 58 to 60 years old, which means many of them were built prior to state standards being developed in 1977. That leads sewer board and health department staff to believe that it’s highly probable many of those systems are failing, just as they were in the Coffey Hill and Orchard Hill neighborhoods when the town of Nashville extended sewer to them in 2010. Failing systems cause contamination, LeBlanc said.

“Bean Blossom Creek is a lovely stream, but all indications are that we do have water quality problems from E.coli, and they do exceed the safe standards for safe recreational use along most of the stream reaches. And that is what we are trying to help solve are those kinds of problems,” he said.

Multiple speakers asked the board for specific data on failing septic systems in the Bean Blossom area. Bean Blossom also has a high population of cows and other livestock; how could they be sure that the E.coli was coming from human waste through failed or illegal septics and not animal waste, they asked.

The board did not have data to show where the failing septic systems are in the sewer project area.

In addition to his own properties’ problems, Leggins talked about residents not being able to flush their toilets on rainy days. No one he’d talked to had said they were against the project; some asked how soon it could come, he said. Some lots are too small or too hilly to put a new septic system on, so without sewers, those systems are going to continue to fail.

“If you have a failing system, you need to be for it (the sewer project). What else are you going to do?” he asked.

Processes and trust

Other commenters had trouble with the way this sewer project came about. Board members acknowledged that they had not personally contacted all of the households in the project area recently to tell them that this project was being considered, and had not sent out surveys asking if residents wanted sewer. The last time a public hearing like this took place was in July 2016 under a mostly-different board, and about 200 letters were sent out, but the project didn’t get off the ground then.

Resident Chris Ross asked if the board had made a final decision that this project was happening, and Larsh answered, “As it was presented today, yes.” Ross asked if residents had any say in whether they want sewer or not. Engineer Gary Ladd said that that was the purpose of the hearing.

“So do residents’ opinions count?” Ross asked.

She also asked how low-income people are going to pay the monthly sewer bill. The board provided handouts on assistance programs for low-income people.

Brown County Redevelopment Commission President Jim Kemp said that if residents can’t afford the $65 a month, they also probably can’t afford to put in a new septic system either, which is the alternative.

“Where’s your data that proves we don’t have failed septic systems in that area?” he asked Ross. Ross said that wasn’t her responsibility; she’s not on the sewer board.

“What is it you appear to all be so angry about?” Kemp asked.

“Subdivisions” and “distrust” were some of the words shouted from the audience. Ross and others said they had a problem with the process, about the board not reaching out to residents to make them part of the decision.

Brown County Regional Sewer Board public meetings occur nearly every month, but few members of the public show up.

Kemp said sewers have to be installed because Brown County’s population is projected to decline over the next 20 to 30 years, and safe, affordable housing and jobs are needed to stabilize the population. With fewer people living in the county, the amount of taxes each person has to pay to support essential services is going to go up, he said.

“So do you let the county implode in on itself? Do you shut down everything … turn the roads back to gravel?” he asked.

Some folks, including resident and business owner Sandy Fields, said they like living their “country ways” in Brown County, and that includes gravel roads and few neighbors.

Resident and business owner Jan Stout wanted to know “where the subdivisions are going to go,” and was so upset about that concept that she didn’t allow Kemp to answer her. She left the meeting shortly after.

Studabaker said this project is aimed at people who are currently living here, to help them fix the wastewater problems they already have. Building a central wastewater treatment plant for the Bean Blossom area is better for the environment in general, and for individual homeowners as well, because it frees up the ground they’re currently using to filter their wastewater to be used for other things, he said.

After the meeting, Swift Powdrill said she wasn’t aware that past sewer boards hadn’t sent surveys to properties that would be affected by the sewer project, or that having house-by-house data was such a sticking point with the public. Both points were discussed in sewer board meetings last spring; Swift Powdrill was appointed to the board last summer. She previously worked for the health department.

She said “it would be a board decision” on whether they would consider surveying residents on their desire or need for sewer service, but it’s something they could talk about.

Mitchell lingered on the sidewalk while board members huddled up inside. If the board goes through with this plan, there’s been talk of a lawsuit, she said.

“How can they go against what all these people in the community want?” she asked, exhaling a stream of smoke. “It’s not fair.”

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”About the Bean Blossom sewer project” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

Cost: $7,355,445 to build; $175,670 to maintain and operate each year

Funding: Planning on a mix of grants and low-interest loans from USDA Rural Development and State Revolving Loan Fund. Preliminary indications are that this area may qualify for up to a maximum 75-percent loan.

Customers: About 275 total at and near Woodland Lake, Little Fox Lake, Freeman Ridge and the general Bean Blossom area.

Timeframe: The board estimates the system could be in place in three years.

Learn more: View the PowerPoint presentation that was shown at the meeting below.

[embeddoc url=”” download=”all” viewer=”microsoft”]

[sc:pullout-text-end][sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”Questions from the public hearing” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

Some of the many questions answered at the public hearing included the following. Other questions (not listed here) were not immediately answered; they are to be addressed at the board’s July 10 meeting.

What will property owners have to pay to hook up to the sewer?

Estimates given at the hearing totaled $1,200 to $1,500 for one-time fees when the system is built. That will go toward pumping and filling in current septic systems, running a line from the house to the new sewer tank, and installing an electrical panel for the pump. Financial assistance programs are available for very low-income or senior residents, said Vicki Perry, state director of the Indiana Rural Community Assistance Program.

After the system is running, the monthly bill estimate is $65 to $85, but that won’t be definite until the funding agencies weigh in.

During system construction, customers will be charged half of the monthly bill, Perry said.

Will the sewer bill be tied to my water bill?

The sewer bill will not change based on how much water a household uses; it will be a flat rate, said sewer board member Clint Studabaker.

What if my septic system is working? Do I have to connect to the sewer?

If you can get a certification through the Brown County Health Department that your septic system is currently working, you can get a 10-year exemption from hooking onto sewer, said project engineer Gary Ladd, citing state code 36-9-23-30.1. Two additional five-year exemptions can be received through the same process, he said.

If a person decides to hook up to the sewer after the initial build-out has been finished, they will have to pay for equipment that the other customers didn’t have to pay for outright, such as the new sewer tank and connecting line. So it would be cheaper to hook up sooner rather than later, Ladd said.

Can I be billed for sewer service even if I don’t choose to take it?

Yes, nodded Perry and sewer board financial adviser Steve Brock. State law allows that, Brock said. The sewer board did not say if they would actually charge non-users.

Will the sewer plant stink?

Sandy Fields was concerned about this. She’s the owner of the Brown County Dragway, across the street from where the sewer plant is envisioned to go. She is concerned she’ll lose business, like she has after the surrounding fields were fertilized.

Ladd said they’re not anticipating that the plant will produce an odor.

Are you going to build subdivisions in Bean Blossom?

Mention of this concept was made in a different meeting, the Brown County Redevelopment Commission, on June 14. The question was not answered at the June 19 sewer hearing because the person who asked it walked out of the meeting.

The long-range goal of the redevelopment commission is to grow the local tax base of residents and businesses.

The Bean Blossom-Helmsburg 2028 Revitalization Project, which the redevelopment commission approved in theory on June 14, revolves around supporting the Bean Blossom sewer project and building different types of housing in that area, so that new residents and existing ones have options to live in Brown County in different stages of their lives.

There are no concrete plans for a specific Bean Blossom-Helmsburg “project,” but the commission members and about 20 other people in the audience at the meeting said they supported the concept.

The Bean Blossom-Helmsburg corridor is on state highways, much of it has high-speed internet access, and it’s not a far drive from Bloomington or other commuter destinations. Helmsburg already has a sewer system and needs more customers to help support it; Bean Blossom doesn’t yet, but the plant the sewer board is planning could support future growth.

There are also several large tracts of land in the Bean Blossom-Helmsburg area where small clusters of houses could go, said redevelopment commission President Jim Kemp. Other speakers at that June 14 meeting suggested condos or apartments, which could appeal to young people just starting out or retired folks who don’t want to live out in the country anymore.

Without sewers, the Bean Blossom-Helmsburg revitalization concept is dead, Kemp said.

“Because we don’t have that sewer system, that limits our ability to grow,” he said. The larger the population of residents and businesses, the more the county’s tax burden can be spread out, he said.

Studabaker, a retired environmental and civil engineer on the sewer board, said it’s important to preserve the natural beauty that Brown County is known for. Heather Nicholson agreed. “Everybody who lives here lives here because of the nature, the atmosphere, the people we all love, but that doesn’t mean we have to carve it up and take out the trees and make roads and everybody has 5 acres. We’ll ruin it that way. We really need to cluster ourselves to keep the beautiful areas,” she said.


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