Health officials wade through contaminated water issue

There is still no set plan to deal with contaminated drinking water in the area, according to St. Joseph County health officials.

A year-long study found that 20 percent of Gilmer Park had contaminated water. The study also found that ten percent of Granger had tainted water. The price tag to resolve these issues could be steep.

A special meeting was held Wednesday night to review the options and costs to clean up the water supply in these affected areas.

Health officials said they realize it will ultimately be up to the residents to decide how much they want to spend out of their own wallets to deal with any contamination issues. Some of the initial estimates would require residents to spend more than $1000 per household.

There are residents in Gilmer Park who feel the expense is unnecessary. For instance, James Leveque said he trusts the water he uses each day. He does not agree with the idea of hooking up Gilmer Park to South Bend’s water supply.

“It’s a simple spin of the numbers to their benefit,” Leveque said. “You’ve got older folks on fixed income. Three to five grand a pop. Where are they going to get that kind of money? I don’t care how much its costs, I’m not hooking up to it.”

Richard Ruszkowski lives just up the street. He has called Gilmer Park home for more about 50 years.

“I use tap water for everything, “ he said. “There isn’t a person on this block that would give up their well water.”

But, the St. Joseph County Drinking Water Protection Working Group sees a need to take at least some action. Officials said there are traces of nitrates and even prescription drugs in some water samples.

“People are less informed in this issue than what we even thought,” said Marc Nelson, who is the environmental health director for the St. Joseph County Health Department. “We got to get out there quickly to start informing them.”

He said the group wants to make sure the decisions are in line with what the residents want to see happen.

“We are not looking toward just a top-down mandate,” said Matt Gavelek, an environmental health specialist with the Health Department. “We want the community to support and want whatever initiative is decided.”

“We are going to ask them questions like ‘How much do you want to spend a year to fix the groundwater?’ Nelson said. “100 a year? 150 a year? If they say no, they’re not going to get much resolution to this problem.”

Nelson said the group will be putting their efforts into a community involvement campaign. They want to host plenty of small group meetings to come up with a permanent solution.

“What they’re doing now spending hundreds of dollars per year on buying bottled water is not the answer,” Nelson said.

Meantime, one Gilmer Park resident has been collecting signatures on a petition to show that they simply don’t want to spend money on things like nitrogen removal systems for each household.

Nelson and the rest of the group discussed coming up with less expensive options or even spreading the cost out over several years so it’s not such a big financial blow to residents.

The community involvement process is expected to take several months. The group is also still going through the engineering and cost estimating process for the different approaches. They don’t think they will have a decision until next spring, at the earliest.

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