The Bean Blossom-Helmsburg sewer regionalization report is out. Here’s what it said.

In the quest to offer sewer service to more of northern Brown County, a lot of options are possible.

The central questions will be who is willing to work with whom, how, and how much money can be found to make any of the options happen.

Seven options are outlined in the 194-page “Preliminary Engineering Report for the Regionalization Assistance Program,” written by Ethel Morgan of HomeTown Engineering. The report was released to the public earlier this month.

The Brown County Regional Sewer District — which is working to bring sewer to the Bean Blossom area — and the Helmsburg Regional Sewer District — which serves Helmsburg residents, but could serve more — agreed to provide information for this study. It was funded by a $30,000 grant from the Regionalization Assistance Program and the Indiana Finance Authority.

Bean Blossom sewer proponents and Helmsburg sewer board members have talked off and on for years about possibly working together in some fashion. The communities are only about 3 or 4 miles apart. But no partnerships have emerged, with some people involved in the conversations saying that they didn’t have enough information.

The Indiana Finance Authority wanted to find out the facts. That was the point of this study — not to make any kind of recommendation for what Helmsburg RSD, Brown County RSD or other areas like Lake Lemon should do, multiple board members have said.

The grant application said that the purpose was “to determine the most economical way to provide sanitary sewage service to populations in and around these areas, now and in the future.”

An executive summary of the report does draw one conclusion: “Based on the analysis completed in this report, it appears that it is most cost-effective to construct two regional plants to serve the areas under consideration,” as opposed to trying to serve the entire area with one plant.

“One of the main benefits of constructing two separate plants is the potential for future growth,” the report says. “With the construction of the plant in the Bean Blossom area, future expansion of the collection system to the north and east can be accomplished. A regional plant in the western part of the county can also serve additional areas around Trevlac/Helmsburg.

“The Helmsburg plant is nearing the end of its useful life, with approximately 10 years remaining,” the study continues. “The Helmsburg RSD shoudl consider a regional option when it is ready to replace its plant.”

The many tables of data in the report map out the costs associated with all the various combinations.

The Brown County RSD and the Helmsburg RSD’s boards are trying to work out a public meeting date when they can discuss the report with Morgan and the state officials who helped fund it.

As of press time, that date had not yet been set, but the dates both boards mentioned as possibilities were within the first or second weeks of March, possibly at the Brown County Fairgrounds.

Possibilities

Morgan studied the current Helmsburg RSD wastewater treatment plant in Helmsburg, and gathered data about the population and wastewater production in Helmsburg, Bean Blossom, Trevlac/Lake Lemon and Benton Township (Monroe County).

She broke those areas into three groups based on watersheds (areas that collect and funnel water and runoff):

Bean Blossom/Lick Creek/Bear Creek, including current sewer customers in Helmsburg, Helmsburg Elementary School and Trevlac (132 customer equivalents);

Bean Blossom Creek Headwaters, including homes in Bean Blossom, the Bean Blossom Trailer Park, Bill Monroe Memorial Music Park, Brownie’s restaurant, the Freeman Ridge neighborhood, Little Fox Lake and Woodland Lake (276 customer equivalents); and

Bean Blossom Creek/Lake Lemon, including North Shore Drive, South Shore Drive and Needmore (353 customer equivalents).

Within those three areas, Morgan identified and studied seven different solutions to handle wastewater, several of which could be used in combination with each other to get all those areas on sewers.

BEAN BLOSSOM/LICK CREEK/BEAR CREEK:

  • Build a new plant in Helmsburg to treat all flows. (Option H1)
  • Build a new plant in Helmsburg to treat all flows except the Bean Blossom Headwaters watershed. (Option H2)
  • Build a new plant in the Trevlac area to treat all flows except the Bean Blossom Headwaters wateshed, and abandon the current Helmsburg plant. (Option T1)

BEAN BLOSSOM HEADWATERS:

  • Build a new plant in the Bean Blossom area to treat all flows and abandon the current Helmsburg plant. (Option BB1)
  • Build a new plant in Bean Blossom to treat only the flows in the Bean Blossom Headwaters watershed. (Option BB2)
  • Build a new plant in Bean Blossom to treat all flows except the Helmsburg RSD territory, and maintain the Helmsburg plant to serve the Helmsburg territory. (Option BB3)

BEAN BLOSSOM CREEK/LAKE LEMON:

  • Build a new plant in Bean Blossom, transport Lake Lemon flows to Bean Blossom and maintain the Helmsburg plant to treat flows from the Helmsburg RSD territory. (Part of option BB3)
  • Transport Lake Lemon flows to Helmsburg and expand the Helmsburg plant. (Part of option H2)
  • Build a new plant in Trevlac and transport Lake Lemon flows to that plant. (Option T2)

All these options have a price. The price for each — just to build it, not the annual costs for operation, repairs and maintenance — is listed below.

Bean Blossom regional (BB1): $29,474,100

Bean Blossom local (BB2): $10,151,200

Bean Blossom local/Helmsburg regional (BB2 and H2): $28,612,500

Bean Blossom regional/Helmsburg as-is (BB3): $28,397,300

Helmsburg regional (H1): $28,478,500

Trevlac regional/Bean Blossom local (T1 and BB2): $25,367,000

Trevlac regional/Bean Blossom local/Helmsburg as-is (T2 and BB2): $23,897,100

None of the cost estimates take into account the possibility of needing to buy property rights from property owners in order to put the sewer system in. All estimates “(assume) that all property owners will grant a right of entry and easement for the placement of the grinder pumps and collection system,” it says.

‘Whys’ and ‘hows’

Currently, the Brown County RSD and the Helmsburg RSD are on separate paths, and it’s unknown if the information in this report will alter either one of them.

The Brown County RSD board and its engineer are taking steps to build a sewer plant in the Bean Blossom area. It would serve about 276 customer equivalents in Bean Blossom Creek Headwaters watershed. (Some commercial properties count as more than one customer equivalent.)

The cost estimate the board reported for that plant was $7.355 million as of last summer.

Project engineer Gary Ladd has submitted the preliminary engineering report to USDA Rural Development for the Bean Blossom plant, he said at the Feb. 11 Brown County RSD meeting. USDA Rural Development is one of the prospective agencies that would fund the project.

Resident Tim Clark, who’s been tracking the progress of the sewer project, asked if there was any relationship between the engineering report and Morgan’s study — if any changes were being made to the Bean Blossom project because of it.

“I personally do not see any impacts that the RAP report (Morgan’s report) has on what’s recommended in the preliminary engineering report,” Ladd said.

The report does not conclude that a Bean Blossom treatment plant isn’t needed, Ladd said. “I think that’s why the only intent is to move full speed ahead now with the preliminary engineering report and let the funding agencies chew on it,” he said.

Clark again stated that no changes had been made to the current Bean Blossom plan as a result of Morgan’s report. “Correct,” Ladd said.

Helmsburg RSD board President Denise Broussard told the small audience at the board’s Feb. 17 meeting that Morgan’s report “basically said that Bean Blossom, or Brown County Regional Sewer District, could start their own plant and that we would stay as a regional sewer district.”

Helmsburg RSD has been taking steps to keep its operation financially afloat. In 2011, it lost its biggest sewer customer, For Bare Feet sock factory, and the $1,200 a month it was paying into the system, Broussard said.

Helmsburg now has 71 customer equivalents, including Helmsburg Elementary School, which counts as 10.

Helmsburg RSD customers now pay a flat rate of $92.50 per month for sewer service. Two years ago, they paid a minimum of $70 that could fluctuate upward depending on use. Before that, the minimum rate was $45, and it hadn’t changed since 2001.

At the Feb. 17 meeting, the board started the process of putting liens on two properties for nonpayment of sewer bills. Sewer service to those properties had already been shut off, Broussard said.

Brown County RSD board President Mike Leggins asked Broussard at the Feb. 17 meeting what the district board was planning to do to lower that monthly bill.

“We are seeking out more customers, but we’d have to go outside the county,” Broussard said. The reason for going outside the county is because the Brown County RSD is in charge of all areas in the county that are not currently served by another sewer district, even though the Brown County RSD has no sewer plants anywhere yet.

Another option that Helmsburg RSD is considering to bring in more revenue and make the plant run better is taking in waste from port-a-johns, Broussard said.

One of the arguments that had been made for Helmsburg and Bean Blossom working together for sewer treatment was the theory that with more customers, the cost to operate a treatment system would be lower for everyone, since there’d be more customers to pay in.

How much customers’ bills would be under any of the seven treatment plant options was not clear in Morgan’s report.

Clark also asked Broussard and Leggins what’s going on with Lake Lemon.

Leggins said that Lake Lemon has hired an engineer to study bringing sewer service to that area, as there are more than 100 potential customers who want sewer service. Morgan’s report lays out several options for how to serve them.

Broussard said her board also had been in contact with the Lake Lemon group about having them become customers of the Helmsburg sewer plant.

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Read the whole RAP report at bcdemocrat.com, posted with this story.

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A Brown County resident with certifications and decades of experience in wastewater and water management spoke up at last month’s Brown County Regional Sewer Board meeting, asking questions about the stream sampling that was reported on in the Jan. 29 paper.

Garry Pugh wanted to know why testing was done for pharmaceuticals in stream water when there are probably other “things of concern” in the water too, like pesticides, herbicides, nitrates or “byproducts of methamphetamines.”

Brown County Health Department staff and volunteers collected the samples from 14 locations around Brown County — several in the Bean Blossom sewer project area — last spring. Those samples were sent to the Indiana State Department of Health laboratory to be analyzed for the presence of E. coli bacteria as well as many common chemical or pharmaceutical compounds, such as caffeine, nicotine and antibiotics. The idea was to try to determine whether or not E. coli was coming from animal waste or human waste. If substances used by humans were in the water, too, the theory was that those substances were getting there through poorly treated wastewater, like through leaking septic septic systems.

The sewer board did not direct the testing, so they said they couldn’t answer all of Pugh’s questions. They referred him to the health department, which was not represented at the meeting.

“My point is that there have to be other indicators out there besides pharmaceuticals,” Pugh said. “Granted, if pharmaceuticals are there, they shouldn’t be there. But if they’re there, there’s got to be other (concerning) things there along with them.”

He said he’d like to see the health department test for nitrates as well as heavy metals like iron and copper.

Board members said that they hope the testing that will be conducted with a different grant later this year will be more comprehensive and yield some better answers about what’s being found in streams and why.

Pugh asked if the data they had now for Brown County was typical for other communities of this size or not. Vicki Perry, state coordinator of the Indiana Rural Community Assistance Program, told him that it is typical for small towns and unincorporated areas with small lots and failing septic systems to have high levels of E. coli in surface water, like streams. What local volunteers have been trying to determine over the past few years is whether or not there is a correlation between a lack of septic system records and failing septics, she said.

At least 15 years of work have already been put into creating a central sewer system for Bean Blossom to replace individual septic systems, she said.

Pugh also suggested more education for people about what they should and shouldn’t put down their septic systems so that they can function better, but sewer board members said they’ve already done that, mentioning the Septic Summit that happened in September.

Board members invited Pugh to get involved in future studies.

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