Elkhart sewer project could take two years to complete

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ELKHART, Ind. Over the next several years, the city of Elkhart is undertaking a series of sewer line projects mandated by the Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency.

Wednesday night representatives from the city’s engineering and utilities departments further explained project CSO 6 & 7 at a public meeting. City engineer Mike Machlan gave a brief presentation and then closed the floor to open Q&A, upsetting many members of the public who wanted to hear what concerns others may have.

Instead, several tables were set up throughout the Lerner Theater meeting room for individuals to go directly up to project planners to have their questions addressed.

CSO 6 & 7 project calls for the construction of a 1.1 million gallon storage tank beneath the parking lot on Waterfall Dr. off of Jackson Ave. Construction will begin in June and could last up to two years and include not just the holding tank but water main upgrades, street scaping and ADA improvements.

Elkhart has an older sewer system which combines both storm water and raw sewage. When the city receives a significant amount of rain fall or water runoff the system gets overwhelmed and overflows into the river.

Every year roughly 45 overflow incidents occur; officials hope that once the tanks are installed that number will be reduced to four.

“That’s the main reason, it’s good for the environment,” said Machlan.
A total of five holding tanks and lifts will be placed throughout the city, in 2013 engineers completed the construction of a tank at High Dive Park.

But who pays for the $137 million worth of projects? According to Machlan, utility rate carriers are.

“The mayor is fond of reminding everyone this is another unfunded mandate, so we did a couple of rate increases of the last couple of years. The accumulation of money is allowing us to do these projects,” Machlan added that the city is also receiving very low-cost loans from the state.

CSO 6 & 7 is on the “fast track,” meaning bids will be accepted in April and completion is anticipated to occur within 18-24 months.

Officials said the location on Waterfall Dr. is ideal for a holding tank. Four different sewer lines, of varying widths converge near Jackson Blvd., so putting a tank and lift station there means minimal pipework and efficient reduction of contamination.

Construction will be done in phases, which according to Machlan are more costly, but reduce inconvenience for drivers and businesses downtown. Part of Jackson Blvd. will be closed, as will two different sections of Waterfall; however, at least one section of Waterfall Dr. will remain open.

The thought of closing a public parking lot so close to Main St. concerns several businesses downtown.

Shane Blotkamp is a trustee at the Knights of Columbus. The Knights’ building is adjacent to the construction site, which means their customers’ primary parking spots will be removed for up to two years.

“The average age of our patrons is mid-sixties, so walking four or five blocks will be a real obstacle,” Blotkamp explained.

Other business owners said they worry closing parts of Waterfall Dr. will create excess traffic and deter potential customers from coming downtown.

“Construction, unfortunately, is something we all have to live with,” said Elkhart resident Pam Kurpgeweit. She said she recognizes the inconvenience but knows the project comes from a federal mandate, which many residents may not know.

“We just have to learn where all the alternative routes are and go with it,” Kurpgeweit added.

In the meantime, officials anticipate detour routes and plans for alternate parking to come in with the construction bids this spring, hoping that everyone can be patient with the changes.

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